The Troy, New York native dropped out of college at age 18 and moved to NYC to pursue an acting career. After studying with Herbert Berghof and at the Actors Studio, Stapleton made her Broadway debut in the 1946 revival of Sean O'Casey's "The Playboy of the Western World." Within five years, she delivered a star-making performance as the blowzy Serafina delle Rose in Tennessee Williams' "The Rose Tattoo" (1951), which earned her a Featured Actress Tony Award. Throughout her career, Stapleton was predominantly known as a stage actress. Among her other memorable roles were Lady in "Orpheus Descending" (1957) and Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie" (1965 and 1975), both by Williams. She had two triumphs in plays by Neil Simon: playing three roles in "Plaza Suite" (1968) and the title role in "The Gingerbread Lady" (1970). For her role as an alcoholic singer in the latter, she earned a Best Actress Tony Award. Her last stage role to date was in support of Elizabeth Taylor (in her stage debut) in the 1981 revival of Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes."Stapleton made her feature debut in "Lonelyhearts" (1958) as a frustrated woman who seduces Montgomery Clift's callow journalist earning an Oscar nod as Best Supporting Actress. She subsequently gave effective and wide-ranging performances, typically as frowzy, unkempt woman in films including Sidney Lumet's "The Fugitive Kind" (1960), "Airport" (1970), which earned her a second Oscar nomination as the worried wife of saboteur Van Heflin, and "Plaza Suite" (1971), recreating one of her stage roles. In Woody Allen's somber, Bergmanesque "Interiors" (1978), Stapleton injected liveliness and warmth as Pearl, a slightly coarse widow romanced by E.G. Marshall to the horror of his daughters. Her performance won her citations as Best Supporting Actress from both the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics and earned her a third Academy Award nomination. In 1981, she was Lauren Bacall's tart-tongued secretary Belle Goldman in "The Fan" and a less revolutionary, more maternal Emma Goldman in Warren Beatty's "Reds," which finally earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Other memorable roles include as Wilford Brimley's wife in "Cocoon" (1985) and its disappointing 1988 sequel, as Barbra Streisand's mother, in denial over her daughter's past, in Martin Ritt's "Nuts" (1987) and as a flirtatious neighbor of Armin Mueller-Stahl in Bob Balaban's "The Last Good Time" (1994). On TV, Stapleton appeared frequently in the 1950s in episodes of "Studio One," "Kraft Playhouse" and "Playhouse 90." She received an Emmy for "Among the Paths to Eden" (ABC, 1967) and won acclaim in the title role (opposite Charles Durning) of "The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom" (CBS, 1974). Stapleton co-starred as Big Mama with Laurence Olivier and Natalie Wood in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (NBC, 1976), was the abandoned wife of Ed Asner in the award-winning "The Gathering" (ABC, 1977), played the Nurse to Gloria Vanderbilt in "Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last" (NBC, 1982), was the overbearing mother of Victor Garber's pianist in "Liberace: The Man Behind the Music" (CBS, 1988) and was the terminally ill mother of journalist Betty Rollin (Patty Duke) in "Last Wish" (ABC, 1992). Stapleton's distinctive voice has been used in several documentaries including "Lincoln" (ABC, 1992) and "P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman" (Discovery Channel, 1995). In 1995, she co-authored her memoirs, A Hell of a Life, which detailed a chaotic life and career that included two failed marriages, many affairs and years of alcohol abuse. As the years passed, the public saw less of Stapleton on screen. From the mid-1990s on through the new millennium, she appeared in only two features, playing the thankless role of a guidance counselor in the indie-produced "Wilbur Falls" (1997), then grandmother to a jealous woman (Meg Ryan) who cannot get over losing her French restaurateur boyfriend (Tcheky Karyo) in the insipid romantic comedy "Addicted to Love" (1997). Then as she grew older, her notorious phobias-fears of opening nights, flying and elevators-forced her into retirement and seclusion. Stapleton spent her waning years in Lenox, Massachusetts with friends and family, while accepting retrospective honors and fundraising for various causes. On March 13, 2006, she succumbed to chronic pulmonary disease. She was 80.
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