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While comic actress Christine Baranski was the winner of multiple Tony Awards for her extensive work on Broadway, she was more widely known by television audiences for her scene-stealing performance as Cybill Shepherd's dagger-tongued, gin-swilling best friend Maryann Thorpe on the CBS sitcom, "Cybill" (1995-98). Her delicious turn earned numerous accolades, including a 1995 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress, and begat a prolific screen career that included spirited performances in features "The Birdcage" (1996), "Bowfinger" (1999), and "Chicago" (2002), which also showcased the actress' later-career tendency towards musicals. Throughout the years, Baranski also maintained a steady presence onstage and on television with several Emmy Award-nominated guest spots on sitcoms. A rare performer welcome in both mediums, she unfailingly delivered laughs by tossing off Oscar Wilde-worthy one-liners and sending up the image of self-absorbed "society" types better than anyone of her generation.Baranski was born May 2, 1952, in Buffalo, NY, and began acting on television as a teen under the stage name, Chris Charney. She got her feet wet with guest spots on family fare like "The Brady Bunch" (ABC,...
While comic actress Christine Baranski was the winner of multiple Tony Awards for her extensive work on Broadway, she was more widely known by television audiences for her scene-stealing performance as Cybill Shepherd's dagger-tongued, gin-swilling best friend Maryann Thorpe on the CBS sitcom, "Cybill" (1995-98). Her delicious turn earned numerous accolades, including a 1995 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress, and begat a prolific screen career that included spirited performances in features "The Birdcage" (1996), "Bowfinger" (1999), and "Chicago" (2002), which also showcased the actress' later-career tendency towards musicals. Throughout the years, Baranski also maintained a steady presence onstage and on television with several Emmy Award-nominated guest spots on sitcoms. A rare performer welcome in both mediums, she unfailingly delivered laughs by tossing off Oscar Wilde-worthy one-liners and sending up the image of self-absorbed "society" types better than anyone of her generation.
Baranski was born May 2, 1952, in Buffalo, NY, and began acting on television as a teen under the stage name, Chris Charney. She got her feet wet with guest spots on family fare like "The Brady Bunch" (ABC, 1969-74) and "Flipper" (NBC, 1964-67) before deciding to go full speed ahead by training at the Juilliard School in New York. With her freshly minted drama degree, Baranski hit the stage in 1974 in a Baltimore production of "She Stoops to Conquer" before joining the company of the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ. Throughout the '70s Baranski appeared in countless off-Broadway productions, making her Broadway debut in 1980's "Hide and Seek." She worked solidly thereafter, making her feature film debut with a bit part in "Soup for One" (1982), nabbing a few daytime soap guest spots, then playing a nymphomaniac in Marshall Brickman's uneven romantic comedy "Lovesick" (1983). The stage continued to be the actress' main focus, and she proved a strong addition to the New York theater community with an OBIE Award-winning performance in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1983 and a Tony Award for Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" in 1985.
In another brief flirtation with Hollywood, Baranski had a few small roles in mainstream films like "9 1/2 Weeks" (1986) and "Legal Eagles", (1986), balancing them with a turn in a filmed staging of John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" (PBS, 1987). She took home another Tony Award in 1989 for the Neil Simon play "Rumors." Following a supporting role as a dalliance of suspected killer Claus von Bulow in Barbet Schr der's "Reversal of Fortune" (1990), Baranski won the Drama Desk Award for her turn as a neurotic suburbanite in "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" in 1991. The stage musical "Nick and Nora" (1991) proved an enormous flop, but while Broadway went through a period of diminishing audiences and limited opportunities for Baranski, she made noteworthy appearances in "Addams Family Values" (1993) and played opposite Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in the CBS movie "To Dance With the White Dog" (1993). She also enjoyed a memorable supporting role as the snooty sister-in-law of an unhappily married man (Kevin Spacey) held hostage in his home in the comedy, "The Ref" (1994).
Baranski had a screen-career breakthrough in 1995 when she was cast as the sidekick of a fading actress (Cybill Shepherd) on the CBS sitcom, "Cybill" (1995-98). Her sharp-tongued, scene-stealing characterization was a critic- and crowd-pleaser, leading the TV newcomer to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series right out of the gate. With each accolade showered on Baranski, however, rumors began flying that the set was not a happy one. Shepherd had essentially been upstaged for the second time in her television career by a relative nobody, with the first being Bruce Willis on "Moonlighting." She would later address her alleged feud with Baranski in her autobiography, by saying that there was truth to the rumored "frostiness" onset and that while Baranski ended up being "the best person for the part" on the show, her first choice for that role had been Paula Poundstone.
Despite the negative press - most of it painting Shepherd as the jealous "All About Eve"-esque star - there was no denying Baranski was the main reason people tuned in. The widespread exposure led to her supporting role as a mother caught up in a madcap scheme to hide her son's (Robin Williams) gay lifestyle from future in-laws in the blockbuster comedy, "The Birdcage" (1996). Returning to the stage amid ongoing Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild nominations for "Cybill," Baranski received raves in 1997 when she headlined "Promises, Promises" with Martin Short at Manhattan's City Center. On the big screen, she gave another strong performance as the philandering wife of Warren Beatty's suicidal senator in "Bulworth" (1998), and had a memorable cameo as the author of child-rearing books whose own daughter is up to no good in "Cruel Intentions" (1999).
Upon the cancellation of "Cybill," Baranski was more in demand than ever, offering another scene-stealing performance as a never-was/has-been actress in the sharply written comedy "Bowfinger" (1999) opposite Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy, and co-starring opposite Kelsey Grammer in five performances of the musical "Sweeney Todd" on the L.A. stage. She joined Grammer again that year in a guest spot as a tough radio show host on his hit series "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004), and garnered another Emmy nomination for her efforts. The comedienne held her own against Jim Carrey, playing the title character's childhood sweetheart, in the live-action version of the Dr. Seuss classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000). She returned to series TV in the short-lived CBS sitcom "Welcome to New York" (CBS, 2000-01), which she executive produced and starred in as the scheming producer of morning TV program. When that series failed, she landed a recurring role on a short-lived drama about a former U.S. Senator readjusting to civilian life in "Citizen Baines" (CBS, 2001).
In 2002, the Broadway veteran landed a supporting role in the big screen version of the musical "Chicago," showcasing her pipes as sob-sister journalist Mary Sunshine. Baranski gave series television one more try with a starring role opposite John Larroquette as parents of grown children who return home in the sitcom "Happy Family" (NBC, 2003-04). Her third primetime shot in as many years also died a quiet death, and Baranski reprised her talent for upscale, large personalities in the feature "Welcome to Mooseport" (2004), playing the first lady of a U.S. president (Gene Hackman) who wreaks havoc in their summer vacation town. In 2006, Baranski began a recurring role as the billionaire mother of a boyfriend of the title character "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010), as well as returned to the stage in the title role of the musical "Mame" at the Kennedy Center. Theaterg rs enjoyed Baranski's run as a witty Upper East Side society wife in Paul Rudnick's madcap satire "Regrets Only," while the actress concurrently held down a supporting role on the supernatural series "The Ghost Whisperer" (CBS, 2005-2010).
From a starring role in the Broadway revival of "Boeing-Boeing," Baranski brought her singing to the big screen in the blockbuster ABBA-based musical "Mamma Mia!" (2008). The same year, she essayed a wealthy socialite in the chick road flick "Bonneville" (2008). In 2009, Baranski earned another Emmy nomination for her guest-starring role as the nerdy scientist mom of lead nerd Leonard (Johnny Galecki) on the sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ). Meanwhile, she made a turn toward dramatic fare with a supporting role on the hit series, "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009- ), playing the strongly opinionated and pro-feminist senior partner of a prestigious law firm that takes in the wife (Julianna Margulies) of a disgraced state attorney (Chris Noth) as a junior litigator. Baranski's performance earned her Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010 and 2011, putting her against co-star Archie Panjabi.
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"It's just beginning to come out in the press that I don't watch TV. With my network [CBS] in terrible straits, I'm not sure announcing that is the best thing I can do." --Christine Baranski quoted in US, December 1995,
"I have a career, a spouse to attend to, children I want to raise to be fabulous people. But 20 years from now, I want to reread my favorite novel, "Portrait of a Lady", in my house while my grandchildren play. And I want to know that though I've been to the party and had a very good time, I can now retreat from worldly things--not take them so seriously, you know?" --Baranski to US, December 1995.
"For years I'd held out against doing network TV. But it had become clear I couldn't make much money in theater. I'd given up work for a year waiting for 'Nick and Nora' and been burned. I was around a long time doing challenging work, and when I was doing 'Lips Together' [a 1991 play Terrence McNally wrote with her in mind] my character never stopped talking and I came home with less than $300 a week.
And here I sit two-and-a-hlaf years later, and my daughters' entire college education is paid for." --Baranski quoted in Newsday, March 20, 1997.
"I've been doing more and more singing because it's my theory that it may get harder for actresses to age in front of a camera and to maintain their stellar presence. But if you can sing in a nightclub, the older you are, the more textured your artistry. So I intend to put together a cabaret act." --Baranski quoted in Newsday, August 12, 1999.
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