Elizabeth FranzJun 18, 1941, Akron, Ohio, USA
While growing up in Akron, Ohio, five-year-old Elizabeth Frankovitch saw "The Bishop's Wife" (1947) with Loretta Young and became determined to pursue an acting career. After graduating high school, she worked as a secretary, squirreling away her salary until she had saved enough for tuition at NYC's American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Even after completing that program, one of her instructors took her aside, praised her abilities and told her "I don't think you're going to work" until she was much older. Undaunted, now billed as Elizabeth Franz, she embarked on a theatrical career that included her Broadway debut in Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead" (1967) followed by work in various regional theaters. The petite blonde Franz first caught the attention of critics and audiences when she landed the title role of the imperious, dictatorial religious in Christopher Durang's dark comedy "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You" in 1979. Buoyed by this newfound success, Franz ventured into films with a part as a doctor in "Farewell Pilgrim" (1980) and a turn as a regular on the NBC serial "Another World" (from 1982-83). Simultaneously with the latter, she originated the part of the care-worn mother of two sons in Neil Simon's autobiographical "Brighton Beach Memoirs," for which she earned her first Tony Award nomination. (Franz recreated the role in the second installment of Simon's trilogy, "Biloxi Blues," but lost out on the role to Linda Lavin for the concluding play "Broadway Bound.") After an eight-year absence, the actress resumed her film career often imbuing small roles with carefully wrought performances. For example, Franz skillfully negotiated the emotional minefield as the mother of soldier killed in action in Vietnam who ends up comforting one of his comrades (Ed Harris) in "Jacknife" (1989) and was equally fine in her brief scene as Matt Damon's mother in "School Ties" (1992). A rare lead came with "Dottie" (PBS, 1987), a character study of an agoraphobic that aired as part of "American Playhouse." Franz was also seen in "Sabrina" (1995), "The Substance of Fire" (1996) and as a social worker in "Twisted" (1997), a contemporary spin on Dickens' "Oliver Twist." Throughout her career, though, Franz remained rooted in theater. In 1996, she had her first crack at the role of Linda Loman opposite Hal Holbrook, but she has stated that it wasn't until she began rehearsing with her later co-star Brian Dennehy that she "found" the character. Holbrook's interpretation was that of a broken and defeated man which required her to modulate her performance to match his; Dennehy's take was more aggressive forcing her to create a more powerful personality for the character, including suggestions of a sexual and romantic bond between husband and wife that frequently was missing from other productions. It was a performance that mesmerized audiences and more than pleased one particular critic--playwright Arthur Miller, who declared hers the best interpretation of the part he had seen. Ironically, she had come to fulfill her former instructor's prophecy of not coming into her own as a performer until late in life.