The Great White Hope
“You have to have the ability to persevere, to get knocked down and get back up again. Just talent isn't enough.” Jane Alexander
Award-winning actress Jane Alexander has collected Oscar nominations for her role as the mistress of African-American champion boxer Jack Jefferson (played by James Earl Jones) in an adaptation of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “The Great White Hope” (1970), as a reluctant source in “All the President's Men” (1976), as Dustin Hoffman's neighbor and Meryl Streep's best friend in “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and as a mother who survives a nuclear bomb in “Testament” (1983).
On stage, she has been applauded and garnered seven Tony Award nominations for her performances in the stage version of “The Great White Hope” (1969), “6 Rms Riv Vu” (1973), “Find Your Way Home” (1974), “ First Monday in October” (1979), “The Visit” (1992), “The Sisters Rosensweig” (1993) and “Honour” (1998).
Her television work has also received rave reviews. She won Emmy Awards for her role as Alma Rose, the musical group's leader, in CBS’ true story-based TV movie “Playing for Time” (1980), and as Franklin D. Roosevelt's domineering, extremely possessive mother Sara Delano Roosevelt in the HBO Films original movie “Warm Springs” (2005). Next, the 5' 6½" tall, reed-thin, angular-featured actress will be seen alongside Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear in an ensemble drama film titled “The Feast of Love.”
Alexander was a director of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from 1993 to 1997. She also serves on the boards of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Project Greenhope, the National Stroke Association, and Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament.
Childhood and Family:
Daughter of prominent Boston area orthopedic surgeon Thomas Bartlett Quigley (Irish-German) and his nurse wife, Ruth Pearson, Jane Quigley was born on October 28, 1939, in Boston, Massachusetts. She attended Beaver Country Day School, an all-girl school in Chestnut Hill, and then studied mathematics at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York, where she graduated in 1959. From 1959 to 1960, she studied at the University of Edinburgh, in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she participated in their Dramatic Society. Jane, who was the Commencement speaker for Duke University's Class of 1996, Bennington College's Class of 1997 and Smith College's Class of 1999, received an Honorary Degree from Smith College in Northampton, MA, in 1999.
While pursuing an acting career in New York City in the early 1960s, Jane met her first husband, Robert Alexander. They married on July 23, 1962, and have one child, a son named Jace Alexander who is a television director. One year after their divorce in 1974, Jane married her current husband, producer/director Edwin Sherin, on March 29, 1975. She first met him in Washington, D.C., where he was serving as the artistic director at Arena Stage. Sherin has three sons from a previous marriage, Tony, Geoffrey and Jonathan. Jane resides with her husband in the suburbs north of New York City.
Discovering her love for acting when she was in an all-girl’s school, she made her stage debut as a child in a production of "Treasure Island" in Boston, Massachusetts. Jane Alexander spent much of her early career doing such odd jobs as working as a secretary and waitress while pursuing an acting career in New York. She acted with the Charles Playhouse, in Boston, and made her first appearance on television in PBS' “Repertory Theatre: St. Patrick's Day” (1965).
Two years after joining the Arena Stage Acting Company in Washington, D.C., Alexander landed her first big break in 1968 when she made her Broadway debut in Howard Sackler's Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Great White Hope.” Portraying Eleanor Backman, the white female companion of the first African-American champion boxer Jack Jefferson (played by James Earl Jones), Alexander won a Tony Award. She followed it up with her ultimate breakthrough in 1970 when she and Jones were asked to reprise their role in its film adaptation directed by Martin Ritt. Her brilliant performance eventually earned Alexander her first Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, in addition to her Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcomer – Female.
Following her stunning Broadway and big screen debut, Alexander headlined the Broadway hit comedy by Bob Randall, "6 Rms Riv Vu" (1972), where she starred as a woman looking for the perfect apartment, and received a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Play. That same year, she made her made-for-television acting debut, opposite Martin Landau, on CBS' “Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol.”
Alexander garnered a third Tony Award nomination in 1974 when she acted as the wife of a bisexual in "Find Your Way Home" on Broadway. Meanwhile, TV audiences could catch her alongside Laurence Luckinbill in “Someone to Watch Over Me,” an unsold sitcom pilot for NBC, and in several TV movies, including “Miracle on 34th Street” (1973), “This Is the West That Was” (1974) and “Death Be Not Proud” (1975).
The second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Supporting Actress, arrived in 1976 thanks to the portrayal of Judy Hoback, a reluctant book-keeper, in Alan J. Pakula's historical drama/thriller based on the 1974 non-fiction book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “All the President's Men,” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Also that year, she received acclaim on television and was nominated for an Emmy for playing Eleanor Roosevelt, opposite Edward Herrmann's Franklin, on ABC's biopic, Eleanor and Franklin. Additionally, she returned to Broadway to play the plain and painfully shy titular character of Catherine Sloper in "The Heiress," a short-lived Broadway revival in which she co-starred with Richard Kiley and David Selby.
In the next years, Alexander teamed up again with Herrmann in the TV-movie sequel “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years” (1977; ABC), which gave her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special, and appeared opposite Henry Fonda in Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's play "First Monday in October" on Broadway, which handed her a fourth Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play. She also earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Margaret Phelps, Dustin Hoffman's neighbor and Meryl Streep's friend, in Robert Benton's adaptation of the novel by Avery Corman, “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979).
Entering the new decade, Alexander won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special for her co-starring role as Alma Rose, the musical group's leader who led a small orchestra of women prisoners in Auschwitz, in the acclaimed CBS true story-based TV movie, “Playing for Time” (1980). A company member of the Hartman Theatre in Boston, Alexander also starred in the title role in "Hedda Gabler" in 1981.
1983 saw Alexander earn another Oscar and Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her role as Carol Wetherly, a mother who survives a nuclear bomb, in Lynne Littman's dramatic film, “Testament.” After portraying Annie Sullivan in William Gibson's stage sequel "Monday After the Miracle" (1983), she produced and starred as a frontierswoman and professional scout in the CBS biopic “Calamity Jane” (1984), which earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Special.
Alexander spent the rest of the 1980s in the CBS TV-movie based on the novel by George Eells, “Malice in Wonderland,” playing the Emmy-nominated role of struggling actress Hedda Hopper to Elizabeth Taylor's Louella Parsons, and co-executive produced and starred (as Winona Ryder's estranged mother) in Daniel Petrie's take on Alan Hines' novel, “Square Dance” (1987). She also had a small role as the mother of Matthew Broderick's character in Edward Zwick's Oscar-winning drama film depicting the story of a regiment of African-American soldiers in the American Civil War, “Glory” (1989; starring Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman).
In the early 1990s, Alexander went back to Broadway, acting opposite Nigel Hawthorne, in the play "Shadowlands," the stage version of a 1985 TV movie about Irish author and scholar C.S. Lewis, and executive-produced and starred opposite Christopher Plummer in the PBS drama, “A Marriage: Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz” (1991). She also received more Tony nominations for her turn as the world's wealthiest woman bent on revenge in "The Visit" (1992) and as the eldest of "The Sisters Rosensweig" (1993). Meanwhile, she was sworn in as a chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in August 1993.
After submitting her resignation from the NEA in October 1997, Alexander returned to Broadway the next year in Joanna Murray-Smith's "Honour" at the Belasco Theatre, in New York City (April-May 1998) and received her sixth Tony Award nomination (fifth as Best Actress in a Play). She also resumed her feature-acting career in Lasse Hallström's Oscar-winning adaptation of John Irving's 1985 novel, “The Cider House Rules” (1999; starring Tobey Maguire and Michael Caine), playing Nurse Edna. Her performance in the film was later nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture.
The new millennium watched Alexander play the lead in Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, and she delivered Emmy-nominated guest appearances on NBC's hit crime drama series "Law & Order" and its spin-off, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." She then went to the stage to play Christine Mannon in Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" at the ACT Theatre, in Seattle, Washington (April 2002), and portrayed the role of Rose in Neil Simon's "Rose and Walsh" at the Geffen Playhouse, in Westwood, California (February 2003). Meanwhile, moviegoers could catch her as Dr. Grasnik, opposite Naomi Watts, in Gore Verbinski's remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film based on Kôji Suzuki's novel, “The Ring” (2002).
Alexander was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special for her turn as Mrs. Gortimer in the dramatic TV movie “Carry Me Home” (2004). The following year, she took home an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for her solid performance as Franklin D. Roosevelt's (played by Kenneth Branagh) domineering, extremely possessive mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, in the HBO original movie “Warm Springs.”
After returning to stage as Djuna Barnes in "What of the Night" at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, in New York City (April 2005), Alexander co-starred with Nicole Kidman in Steven Shainberg's biographical drama film about the mysterious, enigmatic and frighteningly bold artists of the 20th century, “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” (2006). She has completed her upcoming film project with Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Selma Blair and Radha Mitchell, “The Feast of Love,” a drama directed by Robert Benton based on Charles Baxter's book. The film will be released in September 2007 in the USA and 2008 worldwide.
Besides acting, Alexander is also dedicated to world peace, wellness and wildlife conservation. She serves on the boards of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Project Greenhope, the National Stroke Association, and Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament.
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, “Warm Springs,” 2005
Women in Film Crystal: Humanitarian Award, 1996
Western Heritage: Bronze Wrangler--Fictional Television Drama, “Calamity Jane,” 1985
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Special, “Playing for Time,” 1981