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Inga Swenson

Inga Swenson

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: December 29, 1932 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Omaha, Nebraska, USA Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A schooled stage actress, Inga Swenson became nationally known as the formidable Gretchen Kraus, bane of Robert Guillaume's existence on the long-running ABC series "Benson" (1979-1986). She so convincingly played the German-born housekeeper that some might find it difficult to believe she was born and raised in Omaha, NE. Swenson later played the matriarch Maude Hazzard on "North and South" (ABC, 1985) and its sequel, and Matt Frewer's mother on "Doctor, Doctor" (CBS, 1990-1991). From the age of 15, Swenson was acting professionally on stage, debuting in summer stock as the maid in "Peg o' My Heart" at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, MA. She made her Broadway debut as one of the "New Faces of '56" before training under Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Highlights of her prolific stage career include Princess Charlotte in "The First Gentleman" (1957), for which she won an Outer Circle Critics Award. She won another Outer Critics Circle Award, and also was nominated for a Tony Award for her work as the aging spinster Lizzie in "110 in the Shade", a musicalized version of "The Rainmaker", which she played on Broadway in 1963, on tour from 1963-1964, and in...

A schooled stage actress, Inga Swenson became nationally known as the formidable Gretchen Kraus, bane of Robert Guillaume's existence on the long-running ABC series "Benson" (1979-1986). She so convincingly played the German-born housekeeper that some might find it difficult to believe she was born and raised in Omaha, NE. Swenson later played the matriarch Maude Hazzard on "North and South" (ABC, 1985) and its sequel, and Matt Frewer's mother on "Doctor, Doctor" (CBS, 1990-1991).

From the age of 15, Swenson was acting professionally on stage, debuting in summer stock as the maid in "Peg o' My Heart" at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, MA. She made her Broadway debut as one of the "New Faces of '56" before training under Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Highlights of her prolific stage career include Princess Charlotte in "The First Gentleman" (1957), for which she won an Outer Circle Critics Award. She won another Outer Critics Circle Award, and also was nominated for a Tony Award for her work as the aging spinster Lizzie in "110 in the Shade", a musicalized version of "The Rainmaker", which she played on Broadway in 1963, on tour from 1963-1964, and in London in 1967. Swenson received another Tony nomination for the Sherlock Holmes musical "Baker Street" (1965). She also spent a season with the American Shakespeare Festival in 1958, where she played Ophelia and has played classic roles ranging from Desdemona in an Arena Stage (Washington, DC) production of "Othello" (1963), to Eliza Doolittle in a 1968 Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady".

Swenson's TV work began with a singing performance on the Canadian Broadcasting Company's "Chrysler Special" (1957). Trivia enthusiasts may recall that she played the mother of Hoss Cartwright in several flashback episodes of "Bonanza" (NBC), beginning in 1962. Swenson made her TV-movie debut in 1971 playing a Russian member of a space outpost in "Earth II" (ABC) and later co-starred in "Testimony of Two Men" (syndicated, 1977), and played stage star Nora Bayes in "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women" (NBC, 1978). Her feature film work has been sporadic: she was the wife of a closeted homosexual in "Advise and Consent" (1962) and was mother to Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" (1962). Swenson also appeared as a nun in "Lipstick" (1976) and had a small role in "The Betsy" (1978).

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Bay Coven (1987) Matty Kline
2.
 Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women (1978) Nora Bayes
3.
 Betsy, The (1978) Mrs Craddock
4.
 Earth II (1971) Ilyana Kovalefskii
5.
 The Miracle Worker (1962) Kate Keller
6.
 Advise & Consent (1962) Ellen Anderson
8.
 Terrible Secret, The (1979) Mrs Marston
9.
 My Dear Uncle Sherlock (1977) Mrs Trimble
10.
 Androcles and the Lion (1967) Lavinia
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1949:
Stage acting debut in "Peg O' My Heart" at the Berkshire Playhouse in Massachusetts
1956:
Broadway debut in "New Faces of '56"
1957:
Had stage success with "The First Gentleman"
1957:
TV debut singing on "Chrysler Special" for the CBC in Canada
1958:
Appeared with American Shakespeare Festival, including playing Ophelia in "Hamlet"
1962:
Played Hoss' mother in first of several flashback episodes of "Bonanza" (NBC)
1962:
First film role, "Advise and Consent"
1962:
Played Mother of Helen Keller in film version of "The Miracle Worker"
1963:
Had one of her best stage roles in "110 in the Shade", a musical based on "The Rainmaker"; earned Tony nomination as Actress in a Musical
1964:
Earned second Tony nomination for her performance in the musical "Baker Street"
1967:
London stage debut, recreating her Broadway role of Lizzie in "110 in the Shade"
1971:
TV-movie debut in "Earth II" (ABC)
1978:
Played Nora Bayes in "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women" (NBC)
1979:
Co-starred as Gretchen Krause on "Benson" (ABC)
1985:
Played Maude Hazzard in "North and South" (ABC)
:
Played mother of "Doctor, Doctor" (CBS)
1991:
"Retired" from acting (date approximate)
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Education

Northwestern University: Evanston , Illinois - 1954
HB Studios: New York , New York - 1954
Actors Studio: New York , New York - 1958

Notes

Besides performing in stage productions, Swenson has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and with her hometown Omaha Symphony.

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Lowell M Harris. Actor, singer. Married in 1953.

Family close complete family listing

father:
A C R Swenson. Attorney.
mother:
Geneva Swenson.
son:
Mark Harris. Editor. Born c. 1953.
son:
James Harris. Died in a 1987 motorcycle accident at age 26; had daughter Lily (born c. 1987).
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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