Home Acctress Eileen Heckart: The Versatile and Award-Winning Actress

Eileen Heckart: The Versatile and Award-Winning Actress

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Eileen Heckart was an American actress with an impressive stage, screen, and television career. Born in Columbus, Ohio and adopted by her wealthy grandfather (her surname being Heckart), Eileen experienced a difficult childhood due to both an alcoholic mother and abusive grandmother – yet found solace in movies. After graduation from Ohio State University with a major in English she married John Yankee, an insurance broker. They had three sons together before his passing away in 1997.

Broadway Breakthrough

Eileen Heckart
Eileen Heckart

Heckart relocated to New York and pursued acting, beginning his career with summer stock before enrolling at the American Theatre Wing for classes. She first made her Broadway debut as an understudy in The Voice of the Turtle in 1945 and quickly established herself as an essential presence on the Great White Way. Her breakthrough came with her portrayal of schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney in William Inge’s play Picnic (1953), earning both Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards. She originated several roles including those of distraught mother Mrs. Daigle from The Bad Seed, frustrated wife Lottie Lacey from The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, eccentric Agnes Gooch from Invitation to a March, supportive neighbor Mrs. Baker from Butterflies Are Free – each garnering her nominations for Tony Awards. At age 81 she won both best featured actress for Waverly Gallery (winning it at age 81) as well as receiving an honorary Tony Award for lifetime achievement that same year.

Film and Television Success

Heckart made her film and television debut with Miracle in the Rain (1956), earning both an Academy Award nomination and Golden Globe nod for playing Mrs. Daigle in The Bad Seed film adaptation (for which she received both nominations). She won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1972 for playing Mrs. Baker in the film version of Butterflies Are Free and also appeared in notable films such as Bus Stop, The Hiding Place, Heartbreak Ridge and The First Wives Club. On television, she made several series appearances including: The Five Mrs. Buchanans; Out of the Blue; Partners in Crime and Backstairs at the White House for which she earned an Emmy nomination as Eleanor Roosevelt – receiving one Emmy nod in return. Additionally, she guest-starred on many popular programs like Mary Tyler Moore Show; Fugitive; Hawaii Five-O; Murder She Wrote and Sex and the City.

Legacy and Awards

Heckart died of lung cancer at 82, leaving behind a legacy of memorable performances in various mediums that was celebrated with three honorary doctorates, an Oscar star on Hollywood Walk of Fame star, a plaque honoring her Ohio State Theatre Wall of Fame profile and numerous honorary doctorate degrees from universities nationwide. Heckart is widely admired and revered among her peers and fans; many regard her as one of the finest character actresses of her generation.

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