A lady of stage and screen, award-winning actress Elizabeth Wilson had a long career in which she frequently played mothers and wives on television and the big screen. Many filmgoers will remember her best for her performance as Dustin Hoffman's mother in Mike Nichols' classic comedy/drama "The Graduate" (1967) and from her role as Ralph Fiennes' mother in Robert Redford's true-life drama "Quiz Show" (1994). She also had a prominent and memorable comedic role in the 1980 blockbuster comedy "Nine to Five," playing bad boss Dabney Coleman's assistant opposite stars Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. She also co-starred in the big-screen adaptation of "The Addams Family" (1991), playing Abigail Craven, and had a late-career turn starring alongside Bill Murray in the drama "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012), playing Sara Ann Delano Roosevelt, mother of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like many stage-trained actors, Wilson balanced her career between her first love-theater-and feature films and television. Hollywood typically typecast her in matronly roles, but like any gifted actress, the dependable Wilson always found a way to heighten the role to her best advantage. Elizabeth WIlson died May 9, 2015, at the age of 94.
Wilson was born on April 4, 1921 in Grand Rapids, MI. She journeyed to New York City to study drama in 1942, hoping to eventually become an actress on Broadway. But in 1945, she put that dream on hold for a while, instead travelling to the Pacific theater to entertain the troops as part of the USO. The job was dangerous-she toured New Guinea, the Philippines and eventually Japan for months-since the war was still raging on, but the experience was also exhilarating for the burgeoning thespian. In the 1950s, Wilson began to make her significant mark on the theater scene, landing her first appearance in a Broadway play performing as schoolteacher Christine Schoenwalder in the original run of "Picnic" (1951). The play also starred Ralph Meeker, Kim Stanley and a young Paul Newman. She would later perform the same role in the 1955 movie version.
When Wilson made the leap to television and feature films, she did not abandon theater. Her most important roles would remain those she performed on stage, although she also racked up an impressive list of credits over the years for her arguably more visible work on television and in films. She had a small role in Alfred Hitchcock's nature-gone-amok classic thriller "The Birds" (1963) and co-starred opposite legendary actor George C. Scott on the short-lived landmark television show "East Side/West Side" (CBS, 1963-64). After her memorable performance as Dustin Hoffman's mother in "The Graduate," she worked with director Mike Nichols six more times, including appearing in "Catch-22" (1970), "The Day of the Dolphin" (1973) and "Regarding Henry" (1991). The two also worked together on Broadway. Wilson also appeared in several episodes of the cult gothic television soap opera "Dark Shadows" (ABC, 1966-1971) and she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting performance in the television mini-series "Nutcracker: Money, Madness & Murder" (NBC, 1987). Although never a household name, Wilson was regularly cast in several high-profile feature film productions late in life, including "Quiz Show" (1994), "The Addams Family" (1991), and "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012), which would prove to be her final role. Elizabeth Wilson died on May 9, 2015 at her home in New Haven, Connecticut. She was 94.
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Made her stage debut in "Picnic"
Made her film debut in the adaptation of "Picnic," reprising her stage role
Appeared in Hitchcock's "The Birds"
Played Dustin Hoffman's mother in "The Graduate"
Appeared in "Nine to Five"
Played Mrs. Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson," which proved to be her final film role.