Most people won’t know her name, but 94-year-old Elizabeth Wilson’s face is very recognizable. The veteran actress, who died Saturday, appeared in dozens of films, TV shows, and plays, and defied Hollywood’s – and society’s – expectations, so she could do so for 70 years.
Elizabeth loved at least two men in her lifetime, but never married or had children, choosing instead to dedicate her life to her career – and on her terms. Wilson revealed as much to a magazine in 2012, the New York Times, which first confirmed Wilson had died, reported.
In the 1940s, Wilson was discovered by a movie company while working for the Equity Library Theater in New York. They even offered her contract, but she turned them down flat.
“The deal was, my nose was too big and they wanted me to have surgery. My jaw was crooked, and I’d have to have that fixed, too. And they didn’t like my name; it was too common. I was to change these things, and they’d sign me to a multiyear contract. I don’t know how I managed to do this, but I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ Imagine! I can’t believe I had the wisdom.”
Apparently, she didn’t even need them. Elizabeth scored dozens of iconic roles as a character actress over the years, but was rarely the leading lady – something she didn’t really want. Her most popular characters were perhaps as Benjamin Braddock’s mom in The Graduate, snooty, scheming Roz in 9 to 5, and Uncle Fester’s mother in The Addams Family, The Hollywood Reporter added.
Originally from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Elizabeth studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Deadline added, and debuted on Broadway in 1953’s Picnic as a schoolteacher. She followed this with numerous notable plays – The Good Woman of Setzuan, Threepenny Opera, The Importance of Being Earnest, Morning’s at Seven, You Can’t Take It With You, Ah, Wildnerness! and Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance.
Wilson played a drab waitress in The Birds, another mother – to Ralph Fiennes this time in Quiz Show – and appeared in Catch-22, The Day of the Dolphin and Regarding Henry, all Mike Nichols’ films. On TV, she was on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and All in the Family, among others.
And though she was cast quite often as a mom, Elizabeth Wilson didn’t have children of her own. Friend Elizabeth Morton, a woman she considered her daughter, confirmed her death to the Times. And she is only survived by a sister, who she lived with in Connecticut where she died, and a slew of nieces of nephews.
But life-long bachelorette-hood was a choice for Wilson, and one she made so that she could have career. Elizabeth was in love twice, but in an era where women were often pressured to choose children and husband over a career, she made a decision far ahead of her time.
“In those days, if a woman married, they had to quit what they were doing and stay home and raise a family. I didn’t want to do that and now, thank God, you don’t have to.”
[Photo Courtesy Amy Sussman/Getty Images]