Rosemary Murphy, a Broadway and film actress known for her role in To Kill a Mockingbird, died Saturday at her home in New York, according to agent Jonathan Mason. Murphy, who also had an Emmy-winning performance in the television drama Eleanor and Franklin, was 89.
Murphy played the sympathetic part of Miss Maudie Atkinson in the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Atkinson was the neighbor to widower lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, who becomes an outcast in the small town for defending a black man accused of raping a white woman.
During an emotional scene late in the film, Maudie comforts Finch’s son, Jem, saying, “There are some men in this world who are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them.”
While Murphy was known for her role in the film, CNN reports that it was the actress’ portrayal of Sara Delano Roosevelt in 1976 that earned her an Emmy award. She played the role of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother in the ABC television movie Eleanor and Franklin. Rosemary Murphy was also nominated for another Emmy the next year when she reprised her role as Roosevelt for the sequel, Eleanor and Roosevelt: The White House Years.
The Los Angeles Times notes that Murphy died from esophageal cancer, which she was diagnosed with in June. While many were fooled by her authentic Southern accent as Miss Maudie, Murphy was actually born in Munich, Germany, where her father, Robert, was with the U.S. Foreign Service.
The actress grew up in Germany and elsewhere in Europe before her family settled in the United States in the late 1930s. Rosemary Murphy began playing roles on dramatic live television shows in the early 1950s and began racking up credits on Broadway during those years. One of her best known roles on the stage came in 1966 as Claire in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance.
Several critics admired her work on the small screen, including Los Angeles Times television critic Cecil Smith, who stated of her performance in A Delicate Balance, “Few performances in the modern theater were more compelling than her witty, brittle, booze-fighting Claire.”
Murphy continued work in television after Broadway, portraying the mother of presidents in the miniseries George Washington and in 1991’s A Woman Named Jackie. Her later TV credits included long-running soap operas The Young and the Restless and As The World Turns.
Rosemary Murphy is survived by a sister, Mildred Pond.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]