The Passing of Jessica Walter
Earlier this week we received the sad news that Jessica Walter, Clint’s co-star from Play Misty for Me, had died at the age of 80.
Below are a couple of reports from various news outlets.
The Hollywood Reporter by Chris Koselu
Jessica Walter, the sassy actress who excelled at portraying unhinged types, from the obsessed fan of a radio deejay in Clint Eastwood's Play Misty for Me to nutty matriarchs on Arrested Development and Archer, has died. She was 80.
Walter died Wednesday night at home in New York, her daughter, Fox Entertainment executive Brooke Bowman, said.
"It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom, Jessica," she said. "A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre”.
Walter's husband of 36 years, Tony-winning actor Ron Leibman, died in December 2019 at age 82.
Early in her career, the New Yorker stood out in a pair of 1966 features as Libby MacAusland, an ambitious, acerbic wit who finds professional success but has trouble expressing her sexuality in Sidney Lumet's The Group (1966), and as Pat Stoddard, a woman who has romantic entanglements in the Formula One-set Grand Prix, directed by John Frankenheimer.
Always drinking, always exuding an air of entitlement, the sarcastic Lucille was at the center of an ever-evolving mess of a once-wealthy, now desperate family on the Fox/Netflix sitcom. Her razor-sharp work was a huge reason for the show's cult appeal, and her lines became catchphrases and her mannerisms memes.
"People have been great, especially in New York, where you are walking around a lot," Walter noted in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2013. "The one line I get a lot is, 'I'd like to cry but I can't spare the moisture.'
"And winks! Actually, I can do that wink, and it is very difficult, with one eye totally closed and one eye totally open. It said in the script that Lucille winks, and since I can do that in real life, I just thought it would be good to do a specific wink for the character. And they liked it so much that they started writing in more winks. I can't believe my wink has gone viral!"
Her performance helped Walter land her gig as Malory Archer on FX/FXX's Archer starting in 2009. As the former CEO of the International Secret Intelligence Service, the agency where her son, Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), works, she was ruthless, domineering and critical — and rarely seen without a cocktail.
Archer creator Adam Reed told her that she was the first one cast on the animated show, and the fact that Malory and Lucille were similar in nature was not coincidental.
As she told The Daily Beast in 2017: "They sent out copy for auditions to people that said, 'Think of the type as Jessica Walter from Arrested Development.' And my agent who got the copy called me and said, 'They're thinking about you. If you like it, I'll tell them you're interested in doing it.' I said, 'That sounds smart.' And that's exactly how it happened."
Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 31, 1941, Walter was raised in Astoria, Queens. Her father, David, was a world-class violinist who performed with Arturo Toscanini and Pablo Casals, and her mother, Esther, was an immigrant from Russia. Her brother, Richard, would go on to write screenplays and teach the craft to Dustin Lance Black, Alexander Payne and Andrew Bergman, among others, as a longtime UCLA professor.
Walter studied acting at Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she was guided by Sydney Pollack and her classmates included James Caan and Brenda Vacarro, who years later would introduce her to Leibman.
In 1960, she made it to Broadway as the secretary Liz in the original production of Advise and Consent, starring Ed Begley and Richard Kiley, and appeared on the CBS medical drama Diagnosis: Unknown.
She popped up frequently on the small screen back then, guest-starring on Naked City, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey and the pilot for Flipper, working for a couple years on the daytime soap Love of Life and co-starring with William Shatner on For the People.
Walter was honored with the Clarence Derwent Award in 1963 as most promising female performer for her work on Broadway in Peter Ustinov's Photo Finish, and she would return to the New York stage for productions including 1964's A Severed Head, 1988's Rumors and 2011's Anything Goes.
In 1964, Walter made her movie debut alongside Warren Beatty and Jean Seberg in Robert Rossen's psychiatric hospital-set drama Lilith. It was Gene Hackman's first movie, too, and she played his wife.
The Group, based on Mary McCarthy's best-selling novel and also starring Candice Bergen, Joan Hackett, Elizabeth Hartman and Shirley Knight, followed a circle of women who graduated from an all-girl college during the 1930s and stayed friends as their lives evolved over the next seven years. Walter's Libby becomes bitter as the movie goes on.
She received a Golden Globe newcomer nomination for Grand Prix for playing the unhappy wife of a race car driver (Brian Bedford) who has a fling with another (James Garner). Two years later, Lumet hired her again for Bye Bye Braverman (1968), where she played the widow of a man mourned by pals played by George Segal, Jack Warden, Sorrell Booke and Joseph Wiseman
For her chilling portrayal of Evelyn Draper in Play Misty for Me (1971), Walter landed a second Globe nom.
"You can't take your eyes off Walter" in the movie, Nojan Aminosharei wrote in a February 2019 profile of the actress in Elle. "One minute, she oozes genuine, 100 percent natural sweetness. The next minute, she snaps. But it's the way she snaps. That's when her star power comes into sharp relief. It's at once jarring but uncomfortably familiar to anyone who's ever felt so much as a pang of unrequited love. In one scene, she gives Eastwood's character a surprise gift, a new pair of shoes. Her dejection at his lack of gratitude is heartbreaking. You'd almost empathise if she didn't follow it up with attempted murder."
"The movie revolves around a character played with an unnerving effectiveness by Jessica Walter," Roger Ebert wrote in his review. "She is something like flypaper; the more you struggle against her personality, the more tightly you're held."
In a 2012 chat with The A.V. Club, Walter reflected on why she found playing unbalanced characters so appealing.
"They're juicy, much better than playing the vanilla ingenues, you know — Miss Vanilla Ice Cream," she said. "I don't know that I'm attracted to them. I think people just think of me for them, and I read them and I like them. … They're much more fun to play and find the levels, because nobody's that one-color evil. There's lots of levels to why they became that way."
Walter appeared in other films including Number One (1969), Goldengirl (1979), The Flamingo Kid (1984), Ghost in the Machine (1993) and Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), but she worked mostly in television.
She had regular roles on Bare Essence, Three's a Crowd, Aaron's Way, Dinosaurs, Coach, 90210, Retired at 35 (opposite Segal) and Jennifer Falls and guest stints on The F.B.I.; Love, American Style; Mannix; Medical Center; The Love Boat; and Murder, She Wrote.
Walter also received Emmy noms in 1977 for a turn as a money launderer hunted by the mob on The Streets of San Francisco and in 1980 for portraying Pernell Roberts' wife on Trapper John, M.D.
She worked with Leibman in a 1986 Los Angeles Theatre Center production of Molière's Tartuffe, on Broadway in Rumors, on a 1996 episode of Law & Order, in the film Dummy (2002) and finally on Archer when he came aboard in the fourth season as Ron Cadillac, Malory's new husband with a shady past.
Walter also was married from 1966-78 to Ross Bowman, a theatrical manager on Advise and Consent. Survivors include a grandson, Micah.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
LA Times, By CHRISTIE D’ZURIL
Jessica Walter, the prolific actor whose career spanned six decades and included signature roles on “Arrested Development” and “Archer,” has died, her publicist has confirmed. She was 80.
Walter was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 31, 1941, to a musician father and a mother who was an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. She went to New York’s High School of Performing Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, where the late director-actor Sydney Pollack was her teacher.
Among her classmates were James Caan and producer Jerry Weintraub — whom she remembered as “the bad boys” — and Brenda Vaccaro, who would introduce Walter to second husband Ron Leibman some 20 years later.
Walter started her career in theater, with Broadway productions including “Advise and Consent,” “Rumors,” “A Severed Head,” “Nightlife” and “Photo Finish.” The last earned her the Clarence Derwent Award for most promising female newcomer in 1963, the year Gene Hackman won for most promising male newcomer.
Walter’s feature film debut was in the 1964 movie “Lilith,” with Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg and Hackman, who coincidentally was also making his big-screen debut. From there she carved out a notable career as a dramatic actress in films such as Sidney Lumet’s 1966 movie “The Group.” Her work in that movie caught Clint Eastwood’s eye for the role of the obsessed stalker in “Play Misty for Me,” his 1971 directorial debut.
“He called me in,” Walter told The Times in 2014. “No audition. We had a talk, and he offered me carrot juice. The next day my agent called and said, ‘You have the part.’” The result was a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a motion picture
Walter also appeared in numerous TV series, including “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Trapper John, M.D.,” and won an Emmy for her lead role in the 1974 show “Amy Prentiss.” Like so many New York actors, she had guest roles in “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
But all that seriousness changed in 2003, when she was cast as deliciously caustic Lucille Bluth, the vodka-swilling mother from hell in the Emmy-winning Fox and Netflix comedy series “Arrested Development.” Suddenly, Walter was all about the funny — and she had a new generation of fans.
“Jessica Walter’s spectacular turn as the devilish Lucille Bluth is one of the great comedic performances of television history, and we loved working with her as much as audiences loved her on ‘Arrested Development,’” 20th Television said in a statement Thursday.
Walter’s turn on “Arrested Development” led directly to a decade-plus gig voicing the toxic mom Malory Archer on FX’s irreverent animated spy comedy “Archer,” and to a role as a snooty dowager mother on Broadway in the 2011 revival of the musical comedy “Anything Goes.” She also flexed her comedic chops as a mom with parenting issues in TV Land’s short-lived 2014 comedy “Jennifer Falls.”
“Oh, my God, those parts are the best,” Walter told The Times in 2014, in an article that described her as tall, whippet-slender, sweet and funny, with a kind word for everyone. “We don’t want to be Miss Vanilla Ice Cream.”
The producers on “Archer” were looking for a Jessica Walter “type,” rather than Walter herself, to voice the part of the belligerent, alcoholic CEO of the show’s spy agency and the mother of not-so-ace spy Sterling Archer. “We didn’t think she would do our little cartoon show,” Matt Thompson, an executive producer on the series, said in 2014. But once she saw the script, Walter was all in as Malory Archer.
“Jessica was a consummate professional, an actor’s actor, and the exact opposite of Malory Archer — warm, caring, and kind, with an absolutely cracking sense of humor — and it was both a privilege and a true honor to work with her over these many years,” Adam Reed, the creator of “Archer,” said in a statement Thursday. FX, the network, remembered Walter as “a comedic genius and a brilliant actor who personified wit, grace and elegance.”
In addition to her “Amy Prentiss” win, Walter was nominated three other times for Emmys, for work on “Arrested Development,” “Trapper John, M.D.” and “The Streets of San Francisco.” Besides “Play Misty for Me,” her other Golden Globe nomination was for 1966’s “Grand Prix.”
Additionally, she worked with New York’s famed Playwrights Horizons and the Los Angeles Theatre Center. She served as second national vice president of the Screen Actors Guild and was an elected member of the SAG board of directors for more than a decade.
Walter was married twice, first to Ross Bowman, from 1966 to 1978, and then to actor Ron Leibman, from 1983 until his death in 2019. In 2014, she referred to her and Leibman’s marriage as “31 happy, fulfilled, glorious years” together.
She is survived by Bowman, her daughter, who is senior vice president for drama programming at Fox Entertainment, and grandson Micah Heymann.
On behalf of everyone here at the Archive, our thoughts and condolences are with Jessica’s family and friends. RIP