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Eileen Heckart Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (1) | Trivia (26) | Personal Quotes (3)

Overview (4)

Date of Birth 29 March 1919Columbus, Ohio, USA
Date of Death 31 December 2001Norwalk, Connecticut, USA  (lung cancer)
Birth NameAnna Eileen Stark
Nickname Heckie

Mini Bio (1)

Versatile, award-winning character actress Eileen Heckart, with the lean, horsey face and assured, fervent gait, was born Anna Eileen Stark on March 29, 1919, in Columbus, Ohio. An only child, she lived with her mother after her parents separated at age 2. Her childhood was an acutely unhappy one. Her mother, an alcoholic, was married five times, and her stern grandmother, whom Eileen was often shuttled off to stay with, was physically abusive. To survive, Eileen escaped into the joy and imaginary world of movies as an adolescent.

Somehow she managed to survive it all and attend (and graduate from) Ohio State University in 1942 with a degree in English. That same year she married John Harrison Yankee Jr., an insurance broker. They had three sons in a union that lasted 53 years, unusual for a feisty, independent lady of show business. While her husband was off to the war (he joined the Navy), Eileen moved to New York and toiled in a number of day jobs while trying to jumpstart a career in acting. Beginning in summer stock, Eileen took classes at the American Theatre Wing and apprenticed in a number of obscure plays/revues such as "Tinker's Dam" (1943) and "Musical Moment" (1943).

Following extensive work on the NY stage, which included her Broadway debut as an understudy and eventual replacement in "The Voice of the Turtle" (1945), she established herself as a major force on the Great White Way. Her first big break under the Broadway lights was her portrayal of the arch, lonely schoolteacher in William Inge's "Picnic," which earned her both the Outer Critic's Circle and Theatre World awards in 1953. She began quick in demand as flinty, overwrought, down-to-earth types or wise-to-the-bone old gals who, more than not, lived a life of drudgery. Later award-worthy Broadway hits would include "The Bad Seed" (which earned her the Donaldson award), "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (Tony-nom), "Invitation to a March" (Tony-nom), and "Butterflies Are Free" (Tony-nom). Intermixed were live performances on TV for such prestigious programs as "Goodyear Television Playhouse", "Kraft Television Theatre", "Studio One", "Suspense", "The Alcoa Hour" and "Playhouse 90".

Heckart was a dominant yet only intermittent force in films, making her debut in the so-so Miracle in the Rain (1956) featured as Jane Wyman's confidante. Although greatly disappointed at losing the bid to recreate her Broadway role in the film version of Picnic (1955) (Rosalind Russell won the honors), she did receive the satisfaction of transferring her scene-chewing stage role as the despairing, drunken mom whose son falls victim to young Patty McCormack's malevolent mischief in The Bad Seed (1956). For this Eileen copped both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. During this period she fell into a number of dowdy matrons, dour moms and matter-of-fact gal friends with flashy roles in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Bus Stop (1956), Hot Spell (1958) and Heller in Pink Tights (1960). Earning another Tony nomination and the New York Drama Critics award for her brittle role in the 1957 production of Inge's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," she was pregnant with her third child when the film version of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) started rolling and Angela Lansbury stepped in to replace her.

For most of the 60s, Eileen traded off TV guest parts ("Ben Casey," "Dr. Kildare", "The F.B.I.", "The Defenders") with theater roles ("Pal Joey", "Barefoot in the Park", "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running"). She was finally rewarded on film as blind Edward Albert's busybody mom in the welterweight comedy Butterflies Are Free (1972), netting the Academy Award for "Best Supporting Actress". It was a role she had played on Broadway, receiving her fourth Tony nomination.

The Oscar did not bring her pick-of-the-litter roles afforded to other fortunates, but the veteran continued on in all three mediums quite enviably. While not fond of sitcom work, she gave Emmy-style for her guest work on such shows as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", "Love & War", "Ellen", "Cybill" and was part of a short-lived ensemble series as one of The 5 Mrs. Buchanans (1994). She also put together a one-woman stage tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt and gave assertive theater performances in "The Ladies of the Alamo," "The Cemetery Club" and "Northeast Local".

Strangely enough, the Tony Award eluded the three-time nominee during her long, eventful career. The Tony committee finally made up for this oversight in 2000 by awarding her a "special" Tony for "excellence in theater, triggered by her final, multiple award-winning success (Obie, Drama Desk) as an Alzheimer's patient in "The Waverly Gallery" in 2000. In retrospect, it was none too soon for Ms. Heckart, who worked nearly until the end, was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away on the last day of 2001. She was 82.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

John Harrison Yankee Jr. (26 June 1942 - 23 February 1997) (his death) (4 children)

Trivia (26)

Born at 6:02 AM (EST).
Stepsisters: Marilyn Pickering (Michigan City, IN) & Anne Fraggiotti (Centerville, OH).
Graduated from Ohio State University with a drama degree.
Her trademark, hoarse voice was caused by an early bout of whooping cough.
Marlene Dietrich said of her, "If she were acting in Europe, she'd be queen of the boards. The barbarism of Hollywood typecasting deprives the world of her true talents".
The one time in her life she managed to stop smoking, she had dinner with Bette Davis and started again.
One week after winning the Oscar, she went in to pick up her unemployment check and the entire office burst into applause.
She was the only performer (besides Edward Asner, of course) to have reprised a role (Flo Meredith) on Lou Grant (1977) that originated on Mary Tyler Moore (1970).
Won a Special Tony Award in 2000 for "Excellence in Theater". Previously, she had received three Tony nominations as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic): in 1958 for William Inge's "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," in 1961 for "Invitation to a March," and in 1970 for "Butterflies Are Free," the last recreated in her Oscar-winning performance in the film version with the same title, Butterflies Are Free (1972).
Twice played First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Backstairs at the White House (1979) and F.D.R.: The Last Year (1980).
She studied drama at HB Studio in Greenwich Village in New York City.
In order to get Heckart to agree to do "Bus Stop," director Joshua Logan read the entire script over the phone to her. It took two and a half hours while her whole family was waiting for dinner. She was in Arizona at the time because her son had recently contracted meningitis.
Heckart's real parents Esther and Leo Herbert, divorced when she was two, and she was adopted by her mother's step-father, John Heckart.
Heckart played her Oscar-winning role in "Butterflies" in both New York and London prior to doing the film.
Heckart has always considered herself primarily as a stage actress. On the night she won her Oscar, she said to a reporter that the award was "nice, but it's not my life.".
Was the 72nd actress to receive an Academy Award; she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Butterflies Are Free (1972) at The 45th Annual Academy Awards (1973) on March 27, 1973.
Gave birth to her 1st child at age 33, a son Mark Yankee on June 16, 1952. Child's father was her husband, John Yankee.
Gave birth to her 2nd child at age 35, a son Philip Yankee on August 14, 1954. Child's father was her husband, John Yankee.
Gave birth to her 3rd child at age 40, a son Luke Yankee on February 7, 1960. Child's father was her husband, John Yankee.
Her son Philip Yankee died on June 8, 2004 aged 49.
Returned to work 8 months after giving birth to her son Luke Yankee to begin performing in the Broadway play "Invitation to a March".
Was 5 months pregnant with her son Philip when she completed her run of the Broadway play "Picnic".
Returned to work 4 months after giving birth to her son Philip to begin performing in the Broadway play "The Bad Seed".
Returned to work 4 months after giving birth to her son Mark to begin performing in the Broadway play "In Any Language".
Delivered her sons Michael, Mark and Philip naturally and her son Luke via Caesarean section.
Delivered a stillborn son, Michael, in 1950.

Personal Quotes (3)

"I don't like sitcoms, it's instant acting; it has nothing to do with talent. They shoot everything close-up. ... It's very boring. You do television to make money so you can afford to act in the theater." (on her opinion about working on sitcoms)
Now who can afford (theater)? And people don't want to think... You never used to hear them talk during a performance. Now they talk.
[upon entering the auditorium as a nominee on Oscar night] I just hope they pan the camera on me once. I paid a lot of money for this dress, and I want my mother in Columbus, Ohio to be able to see it.

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