Family & Companions
A formidable screen presence, Jessica Walter worked steadily on television but made her first impression on critics as the frigid gossip Libby in Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966). She delivered on her promise as a woman romantically obsessed with Clint Eastwood in the influential thriller "Play Misty for Me" (1971). She won an Emmy for playing "Amy Prentiss" (NBC, 1974-75), a groundbreaking female police chief and earned another nomination for recurring as the ex-wife of "Trapper John, M.D." (CBS, 1979-1986). She played a bored housewife in Garry Marshall's "The Flamingo Kid" (1984), the campily named "Kay Mart" in the cult hit "Tapeheads" (1988), and the college president facing off against Jeremy Piven in "PCU" (1994). On television, she played a series of family matriarchs: the voice of Fran on "Dinosaurs" (ABC, 1991-94), the brilliantly boozy and manipulative Lucille Bluth on the much beloved "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06), the alcoholic grandmother on "90210" (The CW, 2008-13), and the voice of the superspy matriarch Malory Archer on the animated cult fave "Archer" (FX, 2009- ). As filming began on an "Arrested Development" revival, Walter was tapped alongside George Segal to return to live-action sitcoms to play the parents of a young man who "Retired at 35" (TV Land, 2011-12), followed by a similar role opposite Jaime Pressley on "Jennifer Falls" (TV Land 2014). An impressively arch comedic force who only improved with age, Jessica Walter enjoyed an amazingly career trajectory, proving that true talent was the most invaluable asset an actor of any age could have.
Born Jan. 31, 1941 in Brooklyn, NY, Jessica Walter graduated from Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts and went on to cut her teeth in regional and Broadway productions before landing her first screen role on the soap opera "Love of Life" (CBS, 1951-1980). She worked steadily on television, booking spots on everything from "Route 66" (CBS, 1960-64) to "Flipper" (NBC, 1964-67) and "Ben Casey" (ABC, 1961-66). Her film debut came in Robert Rossen's "Lilith" (1964), as Warren Beatty's old flame who marries Gene Hackman, but she soon returned to television as the musician wife of district attorney William Shatner on the short-lived "For the People" (CBS, 1965). In Sidney Lumet's "The Group" (1966), she was cast as Libby, the frigid gossip, but her profile hit a new high when Walter played the psychotically obsessed Evelyn in the hit Clint Eastwood thriller "Play Misty for Me" (1971). As filmdom's original scorned-woman stalker who refuses to be ignored, Walter earned a Golden Globe nomination for her chilling turn in the classic film.
Despite her flashy film turn, Walter spent more time appearing on television, recurring on the series "The F.B.I." (ABC, 1965-1974) and "Ironside" (NBC, 1967-1975), where she played a female police chief. The character proved popular enough to spin-off into her own series, and as the groundbreaking character "Amy Prentiss" (NBC, 1974-75) who was not only a cop but also the mother of a young daughter (Helen Hunt), Walter won an Emmy for her compelling performance. Continuing to book guest spots and small parts across television, Walter's standout roles included essaying a typically take-charge dame on Norman Lear's short-lived series "All that Glitters" (syndicated, 1977) and a recurring role on "Trapper John, M.D." (CBS, 1979-1986), as the title character's ex-wife, which earned her an Emmy nomination. Walter returned to film to star alongside Danny DeVito, Tony Danza and a chimp in the comedy "Going Ape!" (1981).
Continuing to rack up an impressive list of credits on both the big and small screen, she played the bitch of the TV series about a perfume dynasty "Bare Essence" (NBC, 1983) and a bored housewife with an eye on the cabana boy (Matt Dillon) in Garry Marshall's feature film "The Flamingo Kid" (1984). Returning to comedy, she played the mother-in-law of Jack Tripper (John Ritter) on the less-than-successful Chrissy and Janet-free spin-off of "Three's Company" (ABC, 1976-1984) called "Three's a Crowd" (ABC, 1984-85) and lent her silky vocals to Diabolyn, a wicked sorceress in the animated fantasy "Wildfire" (CBS, 1986). Walter next essayed the tart-tongued hairdresser mother of a girl pregnant by a lapsed Amish on the sitcom "Aaron's Way" (NBC, 1988) and the wife of a presidential aspirant with the campy name of Kay Mart in the John Cusack/Tim Robbins cult classic "Tapeheads" (1988). She recurred on "Coach" (ABC, 1989-1997) and voiced Fran Sinclair, the even-keeled matriarch on the prehistoric sitcom "Dinosaurs" (ABC, 1991-94).
Walter briefly faced off against the supernatural cyber threat of the "Ghost in the Machine" (1993) and the even more terrifying threat of Jeremy Piven in the raunchy comedy "PCU" (1994). In constant work flux, Walter also took a plumb supporting turn in Tamara Jenkins's critically-acclaimed coming-of-age dramedy "The Slums of Beverly Hills" (1998) and returned to the world of daytime drama by joining "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2013) as Eleanor Armitage from 1996-97. Although critics swiftly spanked her next sitcom, "Oh Baby" (Lifetime, 1998-2000), Walter rebounded with the role of a lifetime: the boozy, brittle Bluth family matriarch Lucille on the critically beloved "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06). Although the intricate plots and rapid-fire brilliance of the series failed to secure a large enough mainstream audience to enable a lengthy run, critics and a loyal base of fans hailed the show as one of the all-time funniest comedy series in television history. In Walter's hands, the manipulative and controlling Lucille - who alternately babies and pits her sons (Jason Bateman, Tony Hale, Will Arnett) against one another - became one of the show's supreme comic creations. On a show filled with scene-stealing maestros - including Jeffrey Tambor, Portia de Rossi and David Cross - Walter reigned supreme and earned an Emmy nomination for her work.
Enjoying a career renaissance, she appeared in the airport adventure film "Unaccompanied Minors" (2006) and recurred on the Holly Hunter drama "Saving Grace" (TNT, 2007-2010). When the axe inevitably fell on "Arrested" - leaving fans angry and devastated - Walter was cast as the matriarch of a new, less dysfunctional family on the reboot of "90210" (The CW, 2008-13). As had happened with the original series, however, the older characters were soon phased out. She recurred on the dark comedy "Gravity" (Starz, 2010) and guested on the gymnastics drama "Make It or Break It" (ABC Family, 2009-12) and the physics comedy "The Big Bang Theory" (CBS, 2007- ). Playing a spiritual sister to alpha-bitch Lucille Bluth, Walter voiced Malory Archer, the perpetually exasperated, self-centered head of a private spy service on the animated cult favorite "Archer" (FX, 2009- ). Her professional fortunes continued to rise as she and George Segal were tapped to play the parents of a young man who "Retired at 35" (TV Land, 2011-12). The likable sitcom followed in the footsteps of "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010-14) as a low-key success; Walter played a similar role on "Jennifer Falls" (TV Land 2014) as the mother of Jaime Pressley's suddenly-unemployed career woman. Walter returned to her most beloved role as Lucille Bluth for a fourth season of "Arrested Development" that aired on Netflix in 2013.
By Jonathan Riggs
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Stage debut in a Bucks County Playhouse production of "Middle of the Night"
Broadway debut as Liz in "Advise and Consent"
Joined the CBS soap opera "Love of Life" as a regular cast member
Made feature film debut in "Lillith" starring Warren Beatty
Played William Shatner's wife on the short-lived CBS series "For the People"
Had a memorable screen role as Libby in "The Group"
Made TV-movie debut in "The Immortal" (ABC)
Returned to the stage in "The Women" for the Repertory Theatre of New Orleans
Had one of her best screen roles as a psychotic in Clint Eastwood's "Play Misty for Me"
Starred in the NBC series "Amy Prentiss"
Cast on the short-lived syndicated series "All That Glitters"
Made miniseries debut in "Wheels" (NBC)
Had recurring role on "Trapper John, M.D." (CBS)
Was a member of an ensemble cast in "Bare Essence" (NBC)
Played a bored affluent housewife in "The Flamingo Kid"
Had regular role on "Aaron's Way" (NBC)
Returned to Broadway in Neil Simon's "Rumors"
Provided the voice of the mother on "Dinosaurs" (ABC)
Cast on the short-lived series "The Rountable" (NBC)
Had short-term role on the ABC drama "One Life to Live"
Played Cynthia Stevenson's mother in the Lifetime sitcom "Oh Baby"
Appeared in the comedy feature "Slums of Beverly Hills"
Cast as Lucille Bluth, the boozy, controlling mother on the FOX sitcom "Arrested Development"; earned a Supporting Actress Emmy (2005) nomination
Appeared in three episodes of the TNT series "Saving Grace"
Cast as Tabitha Wilson on "90210" (CW) a spin-off of the 90s series "Beverly Hills, 90210"
Started voicing the role of Mallory Archer on the FX animated series "Archer"
Played the part of Elaine Robbins on "Retired at 35"
Appeared on the comedy "Jennifer Falls"
Began voicing Meteora Heinous on "Star vs. the Forces of Evil"
After a five-year hiatus, returned to the role of Lucille Bluth on "Arrested Development"