Marian Seldes, Broadway Legend, Dies at 86

Marian Seldes Dies, Broadway Legend Was 86
Marian Seldes
Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

10/07/2014 AT 07:30 AM EDT

Marian Seldes, the Tony Award-winning star of A Delicate Balance who was a teacher of Kevin Kline and Robin Williams, a muse to playwright Edward Albee and a Guinness Book of World Records holder for most consecutive performances, died Monday at age 86.

She died peacefully at her home after an extended illness, her brother Timothy Seldes said.

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

Marian Seldes made her Broadway debut in 1947 in a production of Medea, starring the versatile actress Judith Anderson, and later appeared in hits such as Equus and Deathtrap. Her most recent Broadway outing was in Terrence McNally's Deuce in 2007, starring opposite Angela Lansbury.

Seldes was nominated for a Tony five times, for her performances in A Delicate Balance, Father's Day, Deathtrap, Ring Round the Moon and Dinner at Eight. She won in 1967 for A Delicate Balance and won her second Tony in 2010 for lifetime achievement.

Her collaboration with Albee included Three Tall Women, which won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for drama, The Play About the Baby, Tiny Alice and Father's Day.

"I think I'm as ambitious as any actress can be, but I don't ask," she told The Washington Times in 1995. "I have a theory that it's better for me if I wait and either the director or playwright chooses. The best opportunities in my career have come that way, and all my opportunities with Edward Albee have come that way."

But she moved easily from role to role, from Chekhov's Ivanov to Peter Shaffer's Equus, from Ira Levin's Deathtrap to Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day and Tina Howe's Painting Churches. Her off-Broadway credits also include The Ginger Man and Painting Churches.

Seldes's reliability and professionalism sealed her place in the Guinness World Records for a time after playing every performance during the run of Deathtrap from 1978 to 1982 – a total of 1,809 performances. Her record as most durable actress has since been broken by Catherine Russell, who logged over 11,000 performances in the off-Broadway production of Perfect Crime.

Seldes, the daughter of author and journalist Gilbert Seldes, was married twice – to novelist and playwright Julian Claman, a union that ended in divorce in 1961, and then to playwright Garson Kanin, who died in 1999.



From 1969 to 1992 she served on the faculty of the Juilliard School, teaching the craft of acting to such pupils as Kline, Williams, Patti LuPone, Laura Linney, Mandy Patinkin and Christopher Reeve.

Seldes also acted in film, in Mona Lisa Smile, Home Alone 3 and Celebrity. On television she appeared in Nurse Jackie and played Candice Bergen's aunt in Murphy Brown and Mr. Big's mother in Sex and the City. She also wrote two books: a memoir, The Bright Lights: A Theater Life, and a novel, Time Together.

Seldes, a slim and elegant woman who often wore her hair pulled back, studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and made her professional debut at age 17 in Robinson Jeffers's Medea, with Anderson.

Her other Broadway credits include Crime and Punishment, The Chalk Garden, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, Oliver Hailey's Father's Day, for which she won a Drama Desk Award, Arnold Wesker's The Merchant and Kanin's A Gift of Time.

In 1995, she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, marking 50 years in the profession, but she missed the ceremony because – typically – she was on tour with Three Tall Women in Los Angeles.

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