She was an iconic star of stage, screen, and television and a Tony Award winning artist worthy of respect. On November 16 the world said goodbye to character actress Ann Wedgeworth at the age of 83 after a battle with an illness in a nursing home near her New York City home. Her acting career dates back to the late 50s and spans over 30 films and television shows respectively. To honor her and her legacy lets take a look back at her career in the latest edition of “In Memoriam”.
Wedgeworth was born Elizabeth Ann Wedgeworth in Abilene, Texas where she graduated from Highland Park High School. There she was friends and classmates with the late Jayne Mansfield who would also go on to find success in the world of film. After graduating from the University of Texas she took on her stage name, dropping her first name, and moved to New York City where he was admitted to The Actors Studio in the late 50s.
Wedgeworth’s career began on Broadway where she made her stage debut in 1958 with a role in “Make a Million”. This would open the door for numerous productions on and off Broadway including “Thieves” and “Period of Adjustment”. Her success in theater continued to thrive as well leading to a major breakthrough in 1978 with her first and only Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her part in “Chapter Two”. This was her last role on Broadway. Among her other on-stage roles was a role in “A Lie of the Mind”, a play by another icon we lost in 2017 Sam Shepard, which earned her a Drama Desk Award as well to add to her resume. During that time she maintained a marriage with Rip Torn before the two divorced in 1961.
Wedgeworth also made her debut on television during these early years with her first recorded appearance in an episode of “Kraft Theatre” in 1957. Wedgeworth’s television career took off in the 1960s with select roles in ‘The Defenders”, “The Edge of the Night”, “Hawk”, and “Another World”. Early on Wedgeworth was known as a soap opera actress before the 1970s changed that stigma. Her most iconic television appearance was in “Three’s Company” where she played Lana Shields in nine episodes of the series. Her run on the show was filled with behind the scenes controversy that eventually led to her seeking a release from her contract and her character being casually written off the show. Wedgeworth’s next major foray on the small screen was in “Filthy Rich” where she stared in 15 episodes. Her longest running television role was in the early 90s as Marleen Elldridge on “Evening Shade” where she was part of 98 episodes and won a Viewers for Quality Television Award for Best Specialty Player for the role.
As for her film career, Wedgeworth made her first big screen appearance in 1965 as Margie in the film “Andy”. She had her big break role in 1973 alongside Gene Hackman in the film “Scarecrow” which opened more doors for the actress to appear in over 30 films in the years to come, establishing her reputation as a versatile character actress. She appeared in a total of nine movies in the 1970s and won a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress for her roll as Dallas Angel in 1977’s “Handle With Care”. She was even more active the next ten years with 15 films on the big screen and television in the 80s with her appearance in 1985’s “Sweet Dreams” earning her another nomination for Best Supporting Actress by the National Society of Film Critics. Wedgeworth appeared in a further eight movies in the 90s before making her final big screen appearance in 2006’s “The Hawk Is Dying”. That would also be her final on-screen roll of her career and the only role she had recorded in the 2000s.
Wedgewroth was never much of a household name, but she was a respected actress in her own right who earned critical praise and respect on film, stage, and television for her ability to adapt to any role and character big or small. As a Tony Award winner she is among the legends of her craft on the stage and as a National Society of Film Critics award winner she became one of the most underrated and under appreciated actresses of her era. Her legacy lives on in her roles as a character actress on landmark television shows and critically beloved cult classics that still hold true today. Her contributions to the world of entertainment should never be underestimated and will never be forgotten by those who followed her career to the very end.