Lois Nettleton

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A singularly consummate, vibrant and versatile actress, Lois Nettleton established a distinguished reputation on the stage, in films and on TV. The former Miss Chicago of 1948 beauty pageant winner and Miss America semifinalist was born in Oak Park, Illinois. Her family was impoverished and her parents divorced early on. Young Lois used make-believe to escape her reality by creating small plays in her backyard which led to an affinity with the idea of acting. Having set her sights on the stage she joined a community theatre at the tender age of eleven and appeared on local radio and television. She later continued her training at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre and then studied ‘the method’ at the Actors’ Studio in New York City, eventually making her Broadway debut in Dalton Trumbo’s “The Biggest Thief in Town” (1948) using the stage moniker “Lydia Scott” (her given name, she felt, was too plain and sounded “schoolmarmy”).

Lois was understudy to Barbara Bel Geddes in the role of “Maggie the Cat” in the original 1955 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer-Prize winning “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, staged by Elia Kazan. Occasionally, she got to play “Maggie”, herself. Of her (own personal favourite) role as Blanche DuBois in the 1973 stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, New York Times critic Clive Barnes wrote: “”Miss Nettleton plays Blanche as a woman of nearly unshatterable courage.” Williams himself called her one of the greatest actresses with whom he had ever worked. Not surprisingly then, that the self-confessed method actress went on to win the prestigious Clarence Derwent Award for her performance in “God and Kate Murphy”.

Lois was married for seven years to Jean Shepherd, the radio host and television humorist. She and Shepherd clicked after she called his nightly radio show at WOR in the 1950s and the beguiled Shepherd broadcast their telephone conversations on the air. They later appeared together in Shepherd’s off-Broadway play “Look Charlie” in 1959.

While her official film debut came in the 1962 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s “Period of Adjustment”, Lois had previously played a bit part in Elia Kazan’s classic A Face in the Crowd (1957), scripted by Budd Schulberg. She subsequently acted in many movies, but most of her major work was on stage and in television where she appeared in everything from sitcoms to soap operas. In a 1985 interview she referred to herself as ‘a gypsy actress’, saying “I always wanted to be as different in everything as possible”. Consistently selective, on the lookout for ‘interesting’ characters and mature roles to play, she tackled pretty much every genre — even playing one of Londo Mollari’s wives in Babylon 5 (1993) . She gave a particularly fine performances in the classic 1961 “Midnight Sun” episode of The Twilight Zone (1959). Her own personal favourite screen role was as an Israeli prosecutor (opposite Maximilian Schell) in the American Film Theater production of The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) . Roger Ebert for the New York Times wrote “She has a steadiness and intelligence and doesn’t back down. She’s the closest thing the film has to a moral center.” A charming and gracious actress, Lois was nominated six-times for Emmy Awards. She won twice for her TV work: for the daytime special The American Woman: Portraits of Courage (1976), and for “A Gun for Mandy” (1983), an episode of the syndicated religious anthology Insight (1960).


  • Birthname: Lois June Nettleton
  • Born: August 16, 1927
  • Born Place: Oak Park, Illinois, USA
  • Height: 5' 5" (1.65 m)
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