Zoe Caldwell, a veteran stage, TV and film actress who won four Tony Awards and originated the Broadway roles of Maria Callas in Master Class and the title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, has died. She was 86.
Her son, Charlie Whitehead, said she died Sunday of Parkinson’s disease complications at her home in Pound Ridge, NY.
Caldwell won four lead actress Tony Awards spanning 30 years. Along with Master Class (1996) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), she also scored trophies for Slapstick Tragedy (1966) and Madea (1982).
Along with her 45-year career on the Great White Way, the Australia native appeared in such films as Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and the 2002 Disney toon Lilo & Stitch. Among her many telefilm roles were adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Her most recent credit was as Oskar’s (Thomas Horn) grandmother in the 2011 film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Caldwell performed or directed in a dozen Broadway shows during her career. Along with her Tony-hailed performances, she also trod the boards in shows including The Play What I Wrote (2003), Lillian (1986), Dance of Death (1974) and The Creation of the World (1972). Her Main Stem directing credits include Park Your Car in Harvard Yard (1991), Macbeth (1988) and An Almost Perfect Person (1977).
Born on September 14, 1933, in Melbourne, Australia, Caldwell began her professional career at age 9 in a production of Peter Pan and went on to appear in productions at Melbourne’s Union Theatre Repertory Company and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company. She moved to London to join the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959.
Caldwell began her American stage career as an original member of the company at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. She made her Broadway debut in 1965 as a replacement player in The Devils.
But she likely will be best remembered for first playing opera great Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, a role that Tyne Daly played in the 2011 Broadway revival. The show features Callas teaching a singing course in an auditorium at the Juilliard School during the 1970s. She regales the students in tales of run-ins with critics, bringing the house down at La Scala and her relationships.
The show played nearly 600 perfiormances from 1995-97 at the John Golden Theatre.
Her other signature role was in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she originated on Broadway after Vanessa Redgrave played it in London’s West End. Maggie Smith won an Oscar for the 1969 film adaptation, which also fueled the smash pop single “Jean,” written by Rod McKuen and sung by Oliver.