Family & Companions
A genuine class act, Jean Marsh won raves in her native England and on American soil for taking on nuanced roles onscreen. The Emmy Award-winning actress first made her mark in British productions, from Shakespearean stage revivals, to sci-fi epics, to costume dramas. However, it was Marsh's breakout performance on "Upstairs, Downstairs" (ITV, 1971-75), a period drama series she also created, that earned the actress favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Her role as a prim and proper housemaid to an aristocratic British family won Marsh an Emmy in 1975, establishing her presence in Hollywood. She parlayed her success on British television into big screen projects, often playing the villain in feature films such as "Return to Oz" (1985) and "Willow" (1985). In 2010, Marsh starred on the three-part revival of "Upstairs, Downstairs," which garnered more critical praise and gave her the opportunity to reprise one of the best characters in her long revered career.
Jean Lyndsay Torren Marsh was born on July 1, 1934 in the Stoke Newington district in London, England. Her father was a printer's assistant and maintenance man, while her mother worked as a dresser for the theater and also tended a bar. Marsh studied acting and mime as a child before taking her first steps in the entertainment business as a cabaret singer, model and dancer. She first graced the Broadway stage in a 1950s production of "Much Ado About Nothing" with acclaimed British actor, director and producer John Gielgud. Marsh made her onscreen acting debut in the made-for-television movie "The Infinite Shoeblack" (BBC, 1952). The actress' early career consisted of several appearances on television, from playing a female robot in an episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1959-1964), to appearing on "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" (ABC, 1954-1961; NBC, 1961-1981; CBS, 1981-83; ABC, 1986-88; NBC, 1988-1990) and "I Spy" (NBC, 1965-68). Yet it was on British television where Marsh established her career with recurring roles on the original installment of the long-running science fiction drama "Doctor Who" (BBC, 1963-1989). She first appeared on the series in 1965 as a medieval crusader and continued to guest star until 1989.
In 1971, Marsh and fellow British actress Eileen Atkins created the drama series "Upstairs, Downstairs" about a wealthy family living in London and the housemaids who served them. Marsh played Rose Buck, the head parlor maid of an aristocratic household. Playing the prim and proper servant earned the actress an Emmy Award in 1975 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, a category she was also nominated for in 1974 and 1976. Additionally, she was nominated twice (1975 and 1977) for her work on "Upstairs, Downstairs" in the Best TV Actress - Drama category at the Golden Globe Awards. After several guest appearances on American television, Marsh landed a supporting role on the short-lived comedy series "Nine to Five" (ABC, 1982-83). Based on the 1980 film of the same name, "Nine to Five" followed three friends (Rachel Dennison, Valerie Curtin and Sally Struthers) as they navigated their careers, friendship, and love lives in the corporate world.
Marsh further enthralled audiences by playing a villain in feature films, including the wicked witch Mombi in "Return to Oz" and the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda in "Willow." Twenty years after "Upstairs, Downstairs" premiered, Marsh and Atkins reteamed to create "The House of Eliott," about two dressmaking sisters living in 1920s London. Both Marsh and Atkins, however, did not act on the show. Marsh easily slipped back into a villainous character with a recurring role on the young adult series "The Tomorrow People" (ITV, 1992-95) as a mysterious and sinister doctor. The actress returned to her theater roots in 2007 with the West End revival of "Boeing-Boeing" (1960), about a Parisian architect juggling three fiancées. Marsh reprised her acclaimed role of Rose on the 2010 revival of "Upstairs, Downstairs." The three-part series began with her character running her own maid service in London, but only to return as head housekeeper to the same house where she previously served, after discovering a new family had moved in. Marsh's return to "Upstairs, Downstairs" earned her a 2011 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Mini-series or Movie.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made feature film debut in "Tales of Hoffman"
Was understudy in US touring company of John Osborne's "Look Back in Anger"
Made an early TV appearance on an episode of "The Twilight Zone" called "The Lonely," in which she played a female robot
Made her Broadway debut as Hero in Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"
Played small role in "Cleopatra"
TV series debut, "The Informer"
Appeared several times in the BBC series "Doctor Who"
With Eileen Atkins, co-created the ITV series, "Upstairs, Downstairs," and played the role of the house parlourmaid Rose Buck; series also aired on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater" from 1974-77
Had a featured role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy"
Returned to Broadway as co-star in "Habeas Corpus"
Played Mrs. Grey in "The Eagle Has Landed"
Played a regular supporting role in the short-lived ABC series, "9 to 5"
Played the villain in the fantasy film, "Return to Oz"
Once again cast as the villain in Ron Howard's "Willow"
Re-teamed with Eileen Atkins to create the series, "The House of Elliot"; Marsh wrote several episodes, but did not act in the series
Played a villain in the Nickelodeon re-make of "The Tomorrow People"
Played the evil villain in the British children series, "The Ghost Hunter"
Co-starred with Joanna Lumley in "Sensitive Skin"
Appeared in the West End stage revival of "Boeing Boeing"
Cast in the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility"
Reprised her role as Rose Buck for the BBC's 3-part revival of "Upstairs Downstairs"
Nominated for the 2011 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie