Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Two-Time Tony Award-winning Actress Marian Seldes, Dies at 86

Marian Seldes

Marian Seldes

Tony winner and premier actress of the American stage Marian Seldes, 86, died peacefully at her home today after an extended illness.

In a statement, Mr. Seldes said, “It is with deep sadness that I share the news that my dear sister Marian Seldes has died. She was an extraordinary woman whose great love of the theater, teaching and acting was surpassed only by her deep love for her family.”

With a career that spanned 60 years, Seldes was the consummate actress and was happiest in the theater. She was honored to be in the theater and her focus and hard work resulted in extraordinary performances that became touchstones for those who worked with her and saw her on stage. She made her Broadway debut in 1948 in the Robinson Jeffers adaptation of MEDEA directed by John Gielgud and starring Judith Anderson in the title role. She won her first Tony (she was nominated for five) for her supporting role in A DELICATE BALANCE by Edward Albee. Seldes has a long association with the playwright, appearing in THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY, TINY ALICE, COUNTING THE WAYS (as part of Beckett/Albee plays) and THREE TALL WOMEN, a tour de force for the actress. She entered the Guinness Book of World Records for her appearance in Ira Levin’s DEATHTRAP (Tony nomination)when she didn’t miss a performance of the play’s four-year run. Other stage credits include EQUUS, PAINTING CHURCHES, THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE, THE CHALK GARDEN, RING ROUND THE MOON (Tony nomination), and DINNER AT EIGHT (Tony nomination). Her last appearance on Broadway was in 2007 in Terrence McNally’s DEUCE.

In 2010, Seldes received a Tony Lifetime Achievement Award honoring her contribution to the theater and her extraordinary talent. Her acceptance of the award became a legendary moment in Tony history when she stepped onto the stage, placed her hand over her heart and looked at the audience of theater luminaries and then exited without a word. She later explained, “They said to keep it short, so I decided I would just say nothing.”

Ms. Seldes also had an extensive career in movies, television and radio. She appeared in more than 18 films, including TRUMAN (as Eleanor Roosevelt), LEATHERHEADS, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, HOME ALONE 3 and MONA LISA SMILE. On the small screen, she appeared as Emily Bronte in the television movie “Our Sister Emily,” in “Murphy Brown” as the title character’s eccentric aunt and as Mr. Big’s mother in the popular series “Sex and the City.” As a radio actress she appeared on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater for eight years.

One of her greatest joys was found in the classroom. Seldes taught for many years at The Juilliard School and later as an adjunct professor at Fordham University. She loved working with her students and her generosity and support of her fellow actors was demonstrated in her teaching. She became for many of them an important friend as well. Among her students were Kevin Kline, Laura Linney, William Hurt, Kelsey Grammar, Christopher Reeve, Kevin Spacey, Patti Lupone, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Christine Baranski, Viola Davis and Robin Williams.

Born and raised in Manhattan, Seldes was the daughter of Gilbert Seldes, an American writer and cultural critic, and Alice Wadhams Hall, a socialite. Her uncle was the investigative journalist and media critic George Seldes. She attended the Dalton School and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse under Sandford Meisner. Seldes also studied dance with Martha Graham and her mentor was Katharine Cornell. Seldes authored two books, “The Bright Lights” a memoir, and a novel “Time Together.”

Ms. Seldes is survived by her daughter Katharine Claman Andres (Clay); grandsons Timo, Guthrie and Wells Andres; her bother Timothy Seldes (Susan); nephew Gilbert Seldes; niece Elizabeth Seldes Annacone (Paul); and grandnephew Emmett Carnahan. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Garson Kanin whom she married in 1990. Her first marriage, to Julian Claman, ended in divorce.

In accordance with her wishes, there will not be a funeral or memorial service for Ms. Seldes. Donations may be made to the Marian Seldes Drama Scholarship at The Juilliard School.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Geoffrey Holder, Artist, Dancer, Choreographer, Two-Time Tony Award-winning Director and Costume Designer for The Wiz, Dies at 84; Son Pens Intimate Account of Last Days
Oct. 15: An Evening with Hollywood Legend Nancy Kwan at the New-York Historical Society
Cori Thomas’s When January Feels Like Summer with Debargo Sanyal, Dion Graham, Mahira Kakkar, Maurice Williams, Carter Redwood, Returns to Ensemble Studio Theatre through October 26, 2014
Reg E. Cathey, Ching Valdes-Aran, Joseph Harrington, Tony Torn and More in La MaMa’s The Tempest through November 2, 2014
James Yaegashi, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Ernest Abuba, Tsering Dorjee, Takemi Kitamura, James Saito, Jon Norman Schneider set for Sarah Ruhl’s The Oldest Boy in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at LCT; Previews Begin October 9, 2014
Oct. 10: Baayork Lee to Receive 2014 Paul Robeson Citation Award presented by the Actors’ Equity Foundation
Oct. 8 – Nov. 2: Myra Lucretia Taylor, JoJo Gonzalez, Linda Powell, Don Sparks and More set for Long Wharf Theatre’s 50th Season Opening Production of OUR TOWN
The Fortress of Solitude starring André de Shields, Adam Chanler-Berat, Kevin Mambo, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kyle Beltran & More Begins Performances at The Public
Photos: Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion on View through April 19, 2015 at New York Historical Society
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
Museum of the Moving Image Presents A Tribute to Ruby Dee
Yuri Kochiyama Memorial Service at First Corinthian Baptist Church in New York
Oct. 5: Meet Award Winning Playwright J.E. Franklin at Booksigning for ‘To Break Every Yoke’ at Castillo Theatre
Rome Neal Seriously Injured in Fall; Fundraisers Set at The Five Spot on October 12 and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on November 6
TCG’s SPARK Leadership Program Class of 2014: Victor Maog, Nelson T. Eusebio III, Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr, Snehal Desai, Deena Selenow, Jacob G. Padrón, Jr., Karena Fiorenza Ingersoll, Kelvin Dinkins, LaTeshia Dezelle Ellerson, Lisa Portes
Video: Jeremy Lin Pranks Visitors at Madame Tussauds San Francisco
Oct. 8 – 12: 2014 National Asian American Theater Conference & Festival Lineup
Oct. 10-12: Dan Kwong’s WHAT? NO PING-PONG BALLS? with Kenny Endo at Interact Theatre Company as part of 2014 National Asian American Theater Festival and Conference
David Henry Hwang and Lynn Nottage Appointed to the Playwriting Faculty of Columbia University School of the Arts Theatre Program
Photos & Video: The Wiz’s André De Shields Sang “So You Wanted to Meet the Wizard” in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream at Carnegie Hall 
Joe Mantegna to Helm ‘Criminal Minds’ Season 10 Episode to Honor the late Meshach Taylor
Photos: Maxine Hong Kingston, Billie Tsien, Bill T. Jones, Linda Ronstadt, John Kander, Julia Alvarez, Jeffrey Katzenberg Receive 2013 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama 
Golden Globe Winner James Shigeta, Veteran of Film and TV, Dies at 85; Excerpts of 2007 A/P/A Institute Q & A with Sukhdev Sandhu 
Photos: Artist Arlan Huang, One Brush Stroke at a Time
Late Night Singing with Garth Kravits at 54 Below with The Skivvies, at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party at Birdland and Michael Raye’s Soul Gathering 
Photos and Video: Ben Vereen Performs at Carnegie Hall in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream 
Photos and Video: Obba Babatunde and cast members from the original cast of Dreamgirls perform at Carnegie Hall in The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream
Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, President Bill Clinton and More Remember Meshach Taylor
Photos: Meshach Taylor Celebrates 67th Birthday with Arlene and Joe Mantegna, Delta Burke, Gerald McRaney, Jean Smart, Dennis Franz, Ernie Hudson, John Heard, Keith Szarabajka, Stuart Gordon, Shadoe Stevens and More
Crafting a Career
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang Photo by GK

Lia Chang Photo by GK

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York. She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Backstage Pass with Lia Chang on
%d bloggers like this: