The Greatest Character Actresses Ever!!!

by TheFabulousThomasJ | created - 05 Apr 2011 | updated - 05 Apr 2011 | Public

Sometimes they got the lead role; and sometimes, they were ten times better than the lead roles. Here's a list of the ladies we remember best in film and television; God bless every one of them!

1. Agnes Moorehead

Actress | Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Of Irish/English ancestry, Agnes was born near Boston, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister (her mother was a mezzo-soprano) who encouraged her to perform in church pageants. Aged three, she sang 'The Lord is my Shepherd' on a public stage and seven years later joined the St. Louis Municipal ...

2. Thelma Ritter

Actress | Rear Window

Thelma Ritter appeared in high school plays and was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In the 1940s she worked in radio. Her movie career was started with a bit part in the 1946 Miracle on 34th Street (1947). In the movie she played a weary Xmas shopper. Her performance in the short ...

3. Beth Grant

Actress | Donnie Darko

Raised in the South, Beth Grant moved frequently as a child and enjoys claiming several towns and cities in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina as home. She was a Page in the North Carolina Senate, attended the North Carolina Governor's School for Gifted and Talented students, and received a ...

4. Margaret Hamilton

Actress | The Wizard of Oz

Margaret Hamilton was born December 9, 1902 in Cleveland, Ohio to Jennie and Walter Hamilton. She later attended Hathaway Brown School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and practiced acting doing children's theater while a Junior League of Cleveland member. Margaret had already built her resume with several...

5. Betty White

Actress | The Proposal

Betty White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to Christine Tess (Cachikis), a homemaker, and Horace Logan White, a lighting company executive. She is of Danish, Greek, English, and Welsh descent.

Although best known as the devious Sue Ann Nivens on the classic sitcom Mary Tyler Moore (1970) and the ...

6. Lois Smith

Actress | Minority Report

Lois Smith was born on November 3, 1930 in Topeka, Kansas, USA as Lois Arlene Humbert. She is an actress, known for Minority Report (2002), Lady Bird (2017) and Twister (1996). She was previously married to Wesley Dale Smith.

7. Jenifer Lewis

Actress | The Princess and the Frog

Jenifer Lewis is one of Hollywood's most familiar faces, with more than 300 appearances in film and television. Dubbed a "national treasure" by TV Guide.com, Jenifer stars on the hit show Black-ish (ABC), where her hilarious portrayal of "Ruby Johnson" earned her a nomination for the 2016 Critics ...

8. S. Epatha Merkerson

Actress | Law & Order

A native of Michigan, S. Epatha Merkerson earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University. In 1978, she moved to New York City to apply her craft on stage. Although best known since 1993 as the smart and shrewd Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on the long-running TV crime drama Law &...

9. Rue McClanahan

Actress | The Golden Girls

A New York stage actress in the 1950s, McClanahan was plucked from the stage by Norman Lear for roles on All in the Family (1971) and later Maude (1972). For two years (1982 - 1984), she played "Aunt Fran" on Mama's Family (1983) until her character was killed off and she joined the cast of Golden ...

10. Melinda Dillon

Actress | Magnolia

Melinda Dillon came to prominence with the role of Jillian Guiler, a mother whose child is abducted by aliens in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Dillon's performance in the film earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. A few years later, Dillon ...

11. Regina King

Actress | Ray

Regina King was born in Los Angeles, California, to Gloria, a special education teacher, and Thomas King, an electrician. She began her career in the television show 227 (1985), followed by a role in Boyz n the Hood (1991). She began to be recognized by a mainstream audience after her role as Cuba ...

12. Heather Matarazzo

Actress | Welcome to the Dollhouse

Heather Matarazzo was born November 10, 1982, in Oyster Bay, New York. She was adopted by Camille and Ray Matarazzo, an Italian-American couple (she is of Irish descent birth). Heather attended Oyster Bay High School, as well as the Long Island High School for the Arts. In 1997, she made her film ...

13. Vivian Vance

Actress | I Love Lucy

She was born Vivian Roberta Jones, with a brother and four sisters. After the family moved from Cherryvale to Independence, Kansas, she studied drama under Anna Ingleman and William Inge. Their next move, to Albuquerque, New Mexico brought her to the Albuquerque Little Theatre, which provided her ...

14. Angela Lansbury

Actress | The Manchurian Candidate

British character actress, long in the United States. The daughter of an actress and the granddaughter of a high-ranking politician, Lansbury studied acting from her youth, departing for the United States as the Second World War began. She was contracted by MGM while still a teenager and nominated ...

15. Lisa Kudrow

Actress | Friends

Hardly the dumb blonde of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997), Lisa was born in Encino, California on July 30, 1963. Her mother, Nedra S. (Stern), worked as a travel agent, and her father, Lee N. Kudrow, is a physician. Her parents are both from Jewish families (from Belarus, Russia, and ...

16. Laurie Metcalf

Actress | Lady Bird

Laurie Metcalf was born June 16, 1955 in Carbondale, Illinois, the oldest of three children of Libby (Mars), a librarian, and James Metcalf, a budget director. She was raised in Edwardsville, Illinois. Laurie attended Illinois State University, where she obtained her bachelor of arts in theater in ...

17. Joan Cusack

Actress | Grosse Pointe Blank

Actress Joan Cusack was born in New York City, New York, and is the daughter of Nancy (née Carolan) and Dick Cusack. Her father was an advertising executive, writer and actor, and her mother was a math teacher. Her siblings - Susie Cusack, John Cusack, Ann Cusack and Bill Cusack also act. Her ...

18. Rita Wilson

Actress | Jingle All the Way

Rita Wilson was born on October 26, 1956 in Los Angeles, California, USA as Margarita Ibrahimoff. She is an actress and producer, known for Jingle All the Way (1996), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and Runaway Bride (1999). She has been married to Tom Hanks since April 30, 1988. They have two children.

19. Lainie Kazan

Actress | My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Actress and singer Lainie Kazan first made her mark with her Broadway debut in 1961 with the musical The Happiest Girl in the World. The following year, she appeared in another musical, Bravo Giovanni. She eventually served as Barbra Streisand's understudy for the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny ...

20. Lynn Redgrave

Actress | Gods and Monsters

Actress of both the English and American stage and screen, Lynn Redgrave was born in Marylebone, London, England, into one of the world's most famous acting dynasties. As the daughter of Rachel Kempson and Sir Michael Redgrave, sister of Vanessa Redgrave and Corin Redgrave, and granddaughter of Roy...

21. Conchata Ferrell

Actress | Two and a Half Men

It took 30 years since it was first predicted, but Conchata Ferrell finally achieved television stardom, albeit of the supporting variety, as the housekeeper "Berta" in the situation-comedy Two and a Half Men (2003). Ferrell originally had been tipped for stardom with her turn as the prostitute "...

22. Kathy Bates

Actress | Misery

Multi-talented Kathleen Doyle Bates was born on June 28, 1948, and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the youngest of three girls born to Bertye Kathleen (Talbot), a homemaker, and Langdon Doyle Bates, a mechanical engineer. Her grandfather was author Finis L. Bates. Kathy has English, as well as...

23. Sharon Gless

Actress | Burn Notice

Show business is in Sharon Gless' blood. Her grandfather, Neil Steere McCarthy (May 6, 1888 - July 25, 1972), was considered by many to have been the most respected and powerful entertainment lawyer of Hollywood's Golden Age. His clients included Howard Hughes, Paramount Pictures, Louis B. Mayer (...

24. Colleen Dewhurst

Actress | Anne of Green Gables

Tall, luminous and leonine, the legendary Colleen Dewhurst must go down as one of the theater's finest contemporary tragediennes of the late 1900s. With trademark dusky tones and a majestically careworn appearance, she possessed an inimitable down-to-earth fierceness that not only earned her the ...

25. Kathy Baker

Actress | Picket Fences

For someone who has made an award-winning impact in all three mediums (stage, film and TV), actress Kathy Baker has been strangely denied all-out stardom, yet continues to demonstrate her versatility in whatever material comes her way.

The comely blonde was born Katherine Whitton Baker in Midland, ...

26. Mary Wickes

Actress | Sister Act

From the grand old school of wisecracking, loud and lanky Mary Wickes had few peers while forging a career as a salty scene-stealer. Her abrupt, tell-it-like-it-is demeanor made her a consistent audience favorite on every medium for over six decades. She was particularly adroit in film parts that ...

27. Catherine O'Hara

Actress | Best in Show

Canadian-American actress, writer, and comedian, Catherine O'Hara first gained name recognition as one of the original cast members on the Canadian television sketch comedy show SCTV (1976). The show recreated itself with SCTV Network (1981) and later, SCTV Channel (1983). On the series, she ...

28. Elizabeth Peña

Actress | Rush Hour

Elizabeth's love for the arts came naturally, as her father was a well-known playwright, actor, director and novelist, so it is not hard to understand that by the time she was eight, Cuban-American Elizabeth Pena already had designs to become an actress. Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and raised in...

29. Sandra Oh

Actress | Grey's Anatomy

Sandra Oh was born to Korean parents in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, Ontario, Canada. Her father, Oh Junsu, a businessman, and her mother, Oh Young-nam, a biochemist, were married in Seoul, South Korea. They both attended graduate school at the University of Toronto. Sandra began her career as a ...

30. Eve Arden

Actress | Our Miss Brooks

Eve was born just north of San Francisco in Mill Valley and was interested in show business from an early age. At 16, she made her stage debut after quitting school to joined a stock company. After appearing in minor roles in two films under her real name, Eunice Quedens, she found that the stage ...

31. Shirley Booth

Actress | Come Back, Little Sheba

Character actress Shirley Booth could play everything in all facets of show business, whether it was a smart-mouthed cashier on radio's "Duffy's Tavern", the sassy maid on TV's Hazel (1961) or the pathetic woman in Come Back, Little Sheba (1952). For those who only know her through her sitcom, it ...

32. Jo Van Fleet

Actress | East of Eden

Jo Van Fleet was born on December 30, 1914 in Oakland, California. She established herself as a notable dramatic actress on Broadway over several years, winning a Tony Award in 1954 for her skill in a difficult role, playing an unsympathetic, even abusive character, in Horton Foote's "The Trip to ...

33. Stockard Channing

Actress | Grease

One of Broadway and Hollywood's cleverer talents who tends to shine a smart, cynical light on her surroundings, Stockard Channing was born Susan Williams Antonia Stockard on February 13, 1944, in New York City, to a Catholic family, with English and Irish ancestry. The daughter of Lester Napier ...

34. Amy Madigan

Actress | Field of Dreams

In the 1960s, Amy attended St. Philip Neri grammar school and Aquinas High School, both in Chicago, where she performed in school plays and was known as the school tomboy. In the early 1970s, Amy was featured in Playboy Magazine wearing only jelly, to promote her music band, Jelly. Amy is the ...

35. Claire Danes

Actress | My So-Called Life

New Yorker Claire Catherine Danes was born in Manhattan, the daughter of Carla (Hall), a day-care provider and artist, and Christopher Danes, a computer consultant and photographer. She has an older brother, Asa. Her paternal grandfather, Gibson Andrew Danes, was a Dean of the Yale School of Art ...

36. Debra Monk

Actress | One for the Money

Debra Monk was born on February 27, 1949 in Middletown, Ohio, USA. She is an actress, known for One for the Money (2012), The Devil's Advocate (1997) and NYPD Blue (1993).

37. Judith Ivey

Actress | The Devil's Advocate

Veteran stage actress Judith Ivey is a two-time Tony Award winner; she won the Tony for Best Actress in a Play for Steaming (1983), and later, Hurlyburly (1985). Her performances in Park Your Car in Harvard Yard (1992), and a revival of The Heiress (2013) were both nominated for Tony Awards. Ivey's...

38. Jean Smart

Actress | 24

Seattle native Jean Smart was born on September 13, 1951. Attending the University of Washington after high school, she received her BA degree in fine arts. Her first professional season was with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she performed in "Much Ado About Nothing," among others. During ...

39. Mary Kay Place

Actress | Being John Malkovich

Mary Kay Place was born on September 23, 1947 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. She is an actress, known for Being John Malkovich (1999), Girl, Interrupted (1999) and Youth in Revolt (2009).

40. Nancy Walker

Actress | The Golden Girls

They say big things often come in small packages, and never was that saying more true than when sizing up the talents of that diminutive dynamo Nancy Walker. Born Anna Myrtle Smoyer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 10, 1922, she lived a born-in-a-trunk existence as the daughter of vaudevillian ...

41. Estelle Getty

Actress | The Golden Girls

She was truly one mother of a mom...on stage, on film and on TV. A favorite firecracker on 80s and 90s television, tiny character player Estelle Getty became best known for her carping, meddlesome moms -- complete with bemused, cynical looks, irreverent digs and dead-pan Henny Youngman-like ...

42. Elsa Lanchester

Actress | Witness for the Prosecution

Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born into an unconventional a family at the turn of the 20th century. Her parents, James "Shamus" Sullivan and Edith "Biddy" Lanchester, were socialists - very active members of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in a rather broad sense and did not believe in the ...

43. Ellen Corby

Actress | The Waltons

Ellen Corby was born Ellen Hansen on June 3, 1911, in Racine, Wisconsin. She began her career as a bit player in the film Speed Limited (1935) in 1940. Ellen would not be seen on the big screen again until 1945 in Cornered (1945). In 1946, she appeared in 14 films, although mostly in small, minor ...

44. Bea Benaderet

Actress | The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Bea Benaderet had a remarkable career in radio and television. In the earlier days of radio, before television, she provided the voice for numerous names of characters on the radio, on shows like "Fibber McGee and Molly," "My Favorite Husband" with Lucille Ball & the Jack Benny Show. She was born ...

45. Beah Richards

Actress | Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Beah Richards left her native Vicksburg, Mississippi, for New York City in 1950. She would not acquire a significant role on stage until 1955, when she appeared in the off-Broadway show "Take A Giant Step" convincingly portraying an 84-year-old grandmother without using theatrical makeup. In 1962 ...

46. Juanita Moore

Actress | Imitation of Life

African American actress Juanita Moore entered films in the early 1950s, a time in which few black people were given an opportunity to act in major studio films. Fortunately Moore's roles began improving as Hollywood developed a social consciousness toward the end of the decade. In 1959 she ...

47. Mildred Natwick

Actress | Dangerous Liaisons

A disarming character lady quite capable of scene-stealing, Mildred Natwick was a well-rounded talent with distinctively dowdy features and idiosyncratic tendencies who, over a six-decade period, assembled together a number of unforgettable matrons on stage and (eventually) film and TV. Whimsical, ...

48. Marla Gibbs

Actress | The Jeffersons

Armed with an acid dry wit and a full arsenal of sarcasm and sass, African-American character comedienne Marla Gibbs showed up on 70s TV with a bang in middle age (44). Landing the feisty maid role on the popular ground-breaking CBS comedy, The Jeffersons (1975), eventually led to her very own ...

49. Shelley Winters

Actress | The Poseidon Adventure

Shelley Winters was born Shirley Schrift of very humble beginnings on August 18, 1920 (some sources list 1922) in East St. Louis, Illinois. Her mother, Rose (Winter), was born in Missouri, to Austrian Jewish parents, and her father, Jonas Schrift, was an Austrian Jewish immigrant. Her father moved ...

50. Hermione Gingold

Actress | Gigi

One of stage, screen, radio and TV's most delightful, inimitable eccentrics, Hermione Ferdinanda Gingold was born the daughter of an upscale Austrian financier and English homemaker. She made her stage debut in 1908, thus beginning a long, commanding presence in London playing everything from ...

51. Gladys Cooper

Actress | My Fair Lady

Gladys Cooper was the daughter of journalist William Frederick Cooper and his wife Mabel Barnett. As a child she was very striking and was used as a photographic model beginning at six years old. She wanted to become an actress and started on that road in 1905 after being discovered by Seymour ...

52. Glynis Johns

Actress | Mary Poppins

Husky voiced Glynis is the daughter of actor Mervyn Johns. Best known for her light comedy roles and often playful flirtation, Glynis was born in South Africa while her parents were on tour there (her mother was a concert pianist) but was always proud of her Welsh roots and took delight in playing ...

53. Amy Sedaris

Actress | Puss in Boots

Amy Sedaris was born on March 29, 1961 in Endicott, New York, USA as Amy Louise Sedaris. She is an actress and writer, known for Puss in Boots (2011), Strangers with Candy (1999) and Elf (2003).

54. Kristin Chenoweth

Actress | Pushing Daisies

Kristin Chenoweth is an American stage, screen and television actress, though, depending on who you ask, Cheno fans may disagree on what her most famous roles are. Since Chenoweth began her career, she has been credited with roles in musicals and plays on and off-Broadway, on various television ...

55. Bonnie Hunt

Actress | Jumanji

Bonnie Hunt was born on September 22, 1961 in Chicago, Illinois, USA as Bonnie Lynn Hunt. She is a producer and writer, known for Jumanji (1995), Return to Me (2000) and The Green Mile (1999). She was previously married to John Murphy.

56. Julie Walters

Actress | Billy Elliot

For decades, British actress and comedienne Dame Julie Walters has served as a sturdy representation of the working class with her passionate, earthy portrayals on England's stage, screen and television. A bona fide talent, her infectious spirit and self-deprecating sense of humor eventually ...

57. Christine Baranski

Actress | Chicago

Christine Baranski was born on May 2, 1952 in Buffalo, New York, USA as Christine Jane Baranski. She is an actress, known for Chicago (2002), Mamma Mia! (2008) and Into the Woods (2014). She was previously married to Matthew Cowles.

58. Dixie Carter

Actress | Designing Women

Dixie is the middle of three children. Her father owned several small retail stores. Early on, she dreamed of being an opera singer, but a botched tonsillectomy at age 7 spoiled any chances for that dream. Still, she sang regularly and studied classical music. She can play the piano, trumpet, and ...

59. Delta Burke

Actress | Designing Women

Delta Burke is best known for her portrayal as Suzanne Sugarbaker in CBS' Designing Women (1986), which ran for *seven* seasons and for which she received two Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. When a teenager she represented Florida in the Miss America Pageant, and won a talent ...

60. Valerie Perrine

Actress | Superman

Valerie Perrine was born on September 3, 1943 in Galveston, Texas, USA as Valerie Ritchie Perrine. She is an actress, known for Superman (1978), Lenny (1974) and Superman II (1980).

61. Fionnula Flanagan

Actress | The Others

Fionnula Flanagan was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. From an early age she grew up speaking both English and Irish on a daily basis. Her parents weren't native Irish speakers but wanted Fionnula and her four siblings to learn the language. Her mother used to say, "A nation without a language ...

62. Judi Dench

Actress | Skyfall

Dame Judi Dench was born Judith Olivia Dench in York, England, to Eleanora Olive (Jones), who was from Dublin, Ireland, and Reginald Arthur Dench, a doctor from Dorset, England. She attended Mount School in York, and studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama. She has performed with the ...

63. Judith Anderson

Actress | Rebecca

Dame Judith Anderson was born Frances Margaret Anderson on February 10, 1897 in Adelaide, South Australia. She began her acting career in Australia before moving to New York in 1918. There she established herself as one of the greatest theatrical actresses and was a major star on Broadway ...

64. Jeanne Cooper

Actress | The Young and the Restless

Jeanne Cooper was born on October 25, 1928 in Taft, California, USA as Wilma Jeanne Cooper. She was an actress, known for The Young and the Restless (1973), Ben Casey (1961) and Dead Air (2009). She was married to Harry Bernsen. She died on May 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

65. Jessica Tandy

Actress | Driving Miss Daisy

A beloved, twinkly blue-eyed doyenne of stage and screen, actress Jessica Tandy's career spanned nearly six and a half decades. In that span of time, she enjoyed an amazing film renaissance at age 80, something unheard of in a town that worships youth and nubile beauty. She was born Jessie Alice ...

66. Maureen O'Hara

Actress | The Quiet Man

In America, the early performing arts accomplishments of young Maureen FitzSimons (who we know as Maureen O'Hara) would definitely have put her in the child prodigy category. However, for a child of Irish heritage surrounded by gifted parents and family, these were very natural traits. Maureen made...

67. Vera Miles

Actress | The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Born in Boise City, Oklahoma, Vera Miles attended school in Pratt, Kansas and Wichita, Kansas. The patrician beauty of Miss Miles won her the title of "Miss Kansas" in 1948, leading soon to small roles in Hollywood films and television series. Fame came to the forthright, spirited Miles when she ...

68. Ann Morgan Guilbert

Actress | Please Give

Ann Morgan Guilbert is beloved by television audiences as the neighbor Millie Helper on the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961) and as feisty Grandma Yetta on The Nanny (1993). She has given memorable performances in film and television and on stage throughout her distinguished career, and ...

69. Maggie Smith

Actress | Gosford Park

One of the world's most famous and distinguished actresses, Dame Maggie Smith was born Margaret Natalie Smith in Essex. Her Scottish mother, Margaret (Hutton), worked as a secretary, and her English father, Nathaniel Smith, was a teacher at Oxford University. Smith has been married twice: to actor ...

70. Lily Tomlin

Actress | Nashville

Lily Tomlin was born September 1, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan, to Lillie Mae (Ford) and Guy Tomlin, who moved to Michigan from Paducah, Kentucky, during the Great Depression. Her mother was a nurse's aide and her father was a factory worker. She graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1957, and ...



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