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A multi-faceted comedienne who created a vast array of characters, Tracey Ullman was one of the most celebrated and consistently funny performers of her day. After achieving success on television and in music in her native England, Ullman came to the United States and established herself as a top-notch comic actor with deadly funny, on-target satire of all manner of social, political and pop culture issues on her breakthrough series, "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-1990). Among her multiple personalities was an aging hippie disc jockey, Summer Storm; the lovelorn spinster Kay; and a suicide prone chorine. Ullman utilized her training by having her characters routinely burst into elaborate song-and-dance routines - one of the show's several hallmarks. Over the years, she rode the wave of her popularity into numerous features films, including a memorable performance in Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks" (2000), while continuing to rack up Emmy awards with numerous cable series and specials like "Tracey Takes On " (HBO, 1995-99) and "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (Showtime, 2008), both of which confirmed her status as one of the funniest and most popular comic actors of her generation.Born...
A multi-faceted comedienne who created a vast array of characters, Tracey Ullman was one of the most celebrated and consistently funny performers of her day. After achieving success on television and in music in her native England, Ullman came to the United States and established herself as a top-notch comic actor with deadly funny, on-target satire of all manner of social, political and pop culture issues on her breakthrough series, "The Tracey Ullman Show" (Fox, 1987-1990). Among her multiple personalities was an aging hippie disc jockey, Summer Storm; the lovelorn spinster Kay; and a suicide prone chorine. Ullman utilized her training by having her characters routinely burst into elaborate song-and-dance routines - one of the show's several hallmarks. Over the years, she rode the wave of her popularity into numerous features films, including a memorable performance in Woody Allen's "Small Time Crooks" (2000), while continuing to rack up Emmy awards with numerous cable series and specials like "Tracey Takes On " (HBO, 1995-99) and "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (Showtime, 2008), both of which confirmed her status as one of the funniest and most popular comic actors of her generation.
Born Dec. 30, 1959 in Slough, Buckinghamshire, England, Ullman grew up in a comfortable countryside home, thanks to her father's success as a lawyer and businessman. But when she was just six years old, her dad, Antony, died of a heart attack while reading her a bedtime story. Her mother, Dorin, eventually remarried, though the Ullman household was never quite the same again. To cheer up their mum, Ullman and her sister, Patty, put on comedy shows in the bedroom. Her enthusiasm for performing carried over to school productions, which captured the attention of a teacher who recognized her talent immediately and encouraged Ullman to attend a specialized school. When she was 12, Ullman enrolled at the Italia Conti Academy, thanks again to her teacher's efforts, which included helping her obtain a grant to pay for tuition, meals and uniform. She spent four years at Italia Conti, but left when she was 16 after finding jobs as a dancer. In 1981, she got together with four other actors and put on an improvised play at the Royal Court Theatre called "Four in a Million." Her performance earned Ullman a London Critics Award and a bit of overnight national attention.
And just like that, her career was off and running. The BBC was soon knocking on her door, offering her a part in a sketch comedy show. Ullman was adamant, however, not to become another Benny Hill-like bikini bunny and required that the BBC allow her to write and develop her own characters. She was soon starring on "Three of a Kind" (BBC, 1981-83), a sketch show that turned Ullman into a national celebrity in England. After the show ended in 1983, she embarked on a successful music career that was more comical than musical, recording the top-selling record, You Broke My Heart in Seventeen Places and releasing the single "They Don't Know" - which went to #2 in the U.K. and #8 in the U.S - and became the theme song to most of Ullman's later television series. As an added bonus, Paul McCartney made a cameo appearance in the music video. Also that year, Ullman made her big screen debut in the flop, "Give My Regards to Broad Street" (1983), McCartney's fictional look at his life and music. She followed with a starring role in "The Young Visitors" (1984), a children's fantasy set in the 19th century British aristocracy. Ullman earned a significantly higher profile co-starring opposite the likes of Meryl Streep, John Gielgud, Sam Neill and Ian McKellen in "Plenty" (1985), an adaptation of David Hare's 1978 play about an increasingly self-obsessed and delusional woman who struggles to cope with a mundane life in post-war England after having worked with the French Resistance during World War II.
After taking time off to have her first child with new husband, producer Allan McKeown, Ullman moved to Los Angeles, CA and began looking for work in the States, landing a small role in the Whoopi Goldberg-centric comedy "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1986). While shopping around her English resume, writer-producer James Brooks became duly impressed with Ullman. But Brooks was uninterested in producing another television show and offered to advise her in developing her own show. Meanwhile, he gathered together with three other television veterans - Jerry Belson, Ken Estin and Heide Perlman - to brainstorm ideas for Ullman's new series. Three days of painstaking deliberations led to the simple idea of having the multi-talented Ullman perform various characters and skits in a half-hour format, forming the basic premise that became "The Tracey Ullman Show." During the show's four year run, which helped the fledgling Fox network get a t -hold on the ratings heap, Ullman showcased a long list of characters - many of which were one-offs - while often performing musical and dance numbers. At the end of each show, she implored the live audience to "Go home!"
Her show was also famous for introducing "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) to the world, which first aired as minute-long shorts between skits, as well as for giving choreographer Paula Abdul her start. In 1988, Ullman earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series - Musical or Comedy, while the series earned several Emmys, including one for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 1990. Once her show left the airwaves in 1990, Ullman returned to features, playing a wife set on killing her philandering husband (Kevin Kline), only to fall in love all over again in Lawrence Kasdan's black comedy "I Love You to Death" (1990). In 1992, Ullman filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox over profits from merchandising from "The Simpsons," which by then had already become a cultural phenomenon. Both parties reached a settlement, resulting in Ullman receiving an undisclosed portion of the profits. Meanwhile, in "Household Saints" (1993), she played a woman who becomes the wife of an Italian man (Vincent D'Onofrio) after he wins her in a game of pinochle.
With her feature career in full swing, Ullman had the opportunity to work with Woody Allen in "Bullets Over Broadway" (1994), albeit in a small role. She made appearances in Robert Altman's "Prêt-à-Porter/Ready to Wear" (1994) and James Brooks' "I'll Do Anything" (1994) before slipping back into the comfortable confines of sketch comedy. In 1993, she began a regular series of comedy specials that aired on cable every few years, starting with "Tracey Ullman Takes on New York" (HBO, 1993), a series of vignettes depicting Ullman as various characters experiencing many aspects of New York City. She immediately followed a month later with "Tracey Ullman: A Class Act" (HBO, 1993), a series of sketches that skewered the British class system, including takes on an elite girls' school and a parody of the documentary "35 Up." Ullman earned another Emmy Award, this time for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program for "Takes on New York." More awards were forthcoming for her more generically-titled special, "Tracey Takes On " (HBO, 1995-99), a sketch series that reused some characters from her previous specials, while introducing several new ones, including faded Broadway star Linda Granger, hard-boiled magazine editor Janie Pillsworth, and gay male flight attendant Trevor.
Thanks to her critically-acclaimed work on the "Tracey Takes On " series, she earned several awards, including a CableACE, yet another Emmy, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series. After making a few noted recurring appearances on episodic television, including as an unusual therapist to Calista Flockheart's titular character on "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002). Once Ullman was through with the "Tracy Takes On " series, she reunited with Woody Allen to play a lower class husband and wife whose success as criminals threatens to derail their previously loving relationship in the charmer "Small Time Crooks" (2000). Demonstrating her commitment to working with esteemed directors, Ullman joined Jon Waters to star in "A Dirty Shame" (2004), playing a blue-collar Baltimore woman who most bizarre sexual appetites are unleashed after a blow to the head. Although Ullman worked valiantly to make the picture work, Waters' desire to shock had finally outweighed his ability to entertain. Meanwhile, Ullman experimented with a talk show format, interviewing celebrities and fashion industry notables for the short-lived "Tracey Ullman's Visible Panty Lines" (Oxygen, 2001-02).
Reviving her popular "Tracey Takes On " character, veteran Hollywood makeup artist Ruby Romaine, for the special "Tracey Ullman in Trailer Tales" (2003), Ullman again found herself the recipient of critical kudos, including another Emmy nomination. In a change of pace, she starred in "Tracey Ullman: Live & Exposed" (HBO, 2005), a one-woman show that explored her origins and background, playing multiple characters to trace her childhood up to her early days in show business. She earned two more Emmy nods, including one for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. After voicing Nell Van Dort and Hildegarde in "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride" (2005) and playing Mother Natured in Amy Heckerling's straight-to-video romantic comedy "I Could Never Be Your Woman" (2007), Ullman returned to cable for another of her critically-acclaimed sketch series. This time, however, she ended her 14-year partnership with HBO to jump over to Showtime, producing "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (2008), in which she lampooned American political, social and pop culture issues, including a dead-on impression of activist and online publisher Arianna Huffington.
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Her Web site may be found at www.purpleskirt.com.
"Ullman has an almost disquieting way of vanishing into the people she portrays."---James Kaplan in Vanity Fair, March 1991.
Tracey Ullman wanted to take a shot at portraying a black woman. "Eddie Murphy's been a white guy," she reasoned. But the show's writers and producer James Brooks had reservations and debated whether it would be inherently racist. So one night Brooks answers his door and there's a black woman standing on the threshold. He started asking her "Who are you? How can I help you?" It was many minutes before Tracey let him know she was that woman. After that she got to play the character in one of her sketches.---From New York Times Magazine
"I don't get any of that sex symbol recognition where they want to tear my panties off. In England everyone thinks I'm their nutty cousin."---Ullman quoted in London's Evening Standard, February 16, 2000.
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