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Tammy Grimes in 1966
Tammy Lee Grimes
January 30, 1934
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||October 30, 2016 (aged 82)|
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
(m. 1956; div. 1960)
(m. 1966; div. 1967)
(m. 1968; died 2005)
She won two Tony Awards in her career, the first for originating the role of Molly Tobin in the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and the second for starring in a 1970 revival of Private Lives as Amanda Prynne. A former husband, Christopher Plummer, and their daughter, actress Amanda Plummer, are also Tony Award winners.
She originated the role of Diana in the Broadway production of California Suite. The role of Diana was played in the film by Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for her performance. Grimes played the role of Elmire in the 1978 Broadway and television production of Tartuffe. She originated roles in several works by Noël Coward, including Elvira in High Spirits and Lulu in Look After Lulu! In 1966, she starred in her own television series, The Tammy Grimes Show. Grimes was also known for her cabaret acts. In 2003, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
She attended high school at the then all-girls school, Beaver Country Day School, and Stephens College, and then studied acting at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse. She studied singing with Beverley Peck Johnson.
Known for a speaking voice compared to a buzz saw, a "lyric baritone" singing voice that one critic called "a low, throaty quiver, a hum that takes wings", and "the stage personality of a daffy but endearing pseudo-English eccentric", she made her debut on the New York stage at the Neighborhood Playhouse in May 1955 in Jonah and the Whale.
She made her Broadway stage debut as an understudy for Kim Stanley in the starring role in Bus Stop in June 1955. In 1956, she appeared in the off-Broadway production, The Littlest Revue, and had the lead role in 1959 in the Broadway production of Noël Coward's play, Look After Lulu!, after she was discovered in a nightclub by the playwright.
She starred in the 1960 musical comedy The Unsinkable Molly Brown for which she won a Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical, even though it was the lead role) for what The New York Times called her "buoyant" performance as a rough-hewn Colorado social climber. She portrayed the title character, a Western mining millionairess who survived the sinking of the Titanic. In 1964, she appeared in the episode "The He-She Chemistry" of Craig Stevens's CBS drama Mr. Broadway. She made two appearances on the early '60s TV series Route 66. 
On May 16, 1960, Grimes acted and sang as Mehitabel in an abridged version of the musical Archy and Mehitabel as part of the syndicated TV anthology series Play of the Week presented by David Susskind, and co-written by Mel Brooks and Joe Darion. The cast included Eddie Bracken (who reprised the role in the 1970 animated feature version Shinbone Alley with Carol Channing in the Mehitabel role) and Jules Munshin. Grimes was originally chosen to play the part given to Elizabeth Montgomery in the hit television situation comedy Bewitched, but she turned down the offer, preferring to star in The Tammy Grimes Show.
In 1966, Grimes starred in her own ABC television series, The Tammy Grimes Show, in which she played a modern-day heiress who loved to spend money. Receiving unfavorable critical reaction and poor ratings, it ran for only a month, although an additional six episodes had already been made.
Returning to the Broadway stage in 1969 after almost a decade of performing in what The New York Times called "dubious delights", Grimes appeared in a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives as Amanda, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress. Clive Barnes in a New York Times review called her performance "outrageously appealing. She plays every cheap trick in the histrionic book with supreme aplomb and adorable confidence. Her voice moans, purrs, splutters; she gesticulates with her eyes, almost shouts with her hair. She is all campy, impossible woman, a lovable phony with the hint of tigress about her, so ridiculously artificial that she just has to be for real."
During her career, she spent several seasons at the Stratford Festival of Canada in Stratford, Ontario, and appeared in a number of television series and motion pictures. Grimes also entertained at various New York City night clubs and recorded several albums of songs; she also recited poetry as part of a 1968 solo act in the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel. Her voice can be heard in romantic duets on some of Ben Bagley's anthology albums of Broadway songs under his Painted Smiles record label. In 1982, she hosted the final season of CBS Radio Mystery Theater. In 1983, Grimes was dismissed from her co-starring role in the Neil Simon play Actors and Actresses, reportedly due to an inability to learn her lines.
In 1974, Grimes provided the voice for Albert, the cerebral-minded mouse that does not believe in Santa Claus, in the animated Rankin-Bass annual television Christmas special, Twas the Night Before Christmas; she later worked with Rankin/Bass again for 1982's The Last Unicorn. In 1980, she starred in the original Broadway production of the musical 42nd Street. In 2003, Grimes was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. She also appeared in the rotating cast of the off-Broadway staged reading of Wit & Wisdom.
In December 2003, Grimes was invited by the Noel Coward Society to be the first celebrity to lay flowers on the statue of Sir Noël Coward at the Gershwin Theatre in Manhattan to celebrate the 104th birthday of "The Master". In 2004, she joined the company of Tasting Memories, a "compilation of delicious reveries in poetry, song, and prose", with a starry rotating cast including Kitty Carlisle Hart, Rosemary Harris, Philip Bosco, Joy Franz, and Kathleen Noone.
In 2005, Grimes worked with director Brandon Jameson to voice UNICEF's multiple award-winning tribute to Sesame Workshop. Two years later, she returned to the cabaret stage in a critically acclaimed one-woman show. Around this time, she was voted as vice president of the Noel Coward Society.
Her second husband was actor Jeremy Slate, whom she married in 1966 and divorced a year later. Her third husband was composer Richard Bell, whom she married in 1971; the couple remained wed until Bell's death in 2005.
In 1965, Grimes made headlines after she had been beaten and injured twice in four days in New York City, by what were described as "white racists". According to a report, she believed the attacks were related to her association with several black entertainers and recent appearances in public with Sammy Davis Jr., who was said to be staging a nightclub act for her.
Grimes released three known one-off singles during the 1960s, none of which charted:
Her debut solo album, Julius Monk presents Tammy Grimes (1959), featured the music from her one-woman show at the NYC nightclub Downstairs at the Upstairs. The album was re-released on the AEI label in 1982. She recorded two albums for Columbia Records, Tammy Grimes (CS-8589 stereo/CL 1789 mono) in 1962, and The Unmistakable Tammy Grimes (CS 8784 stereo/CL 1984 mono) in 1963. In 2004, the Collectables CD label licensed both LPs from Sony Music and released the combination as The Unmistakable Tammy Grimes (Collectables CD 7649).
She is featured on the following original cast recordings: The Littlest Revue, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, High Spirits, 42nd Street, and Sunset, as well as a TV cast album of the televised version of George M. Cohan's 45 Minutes from Broadway. All have been released on CD, although High Spirits in now out of print.
Grimes did the introductory narration for the American rebroadcast of the BBC's 1981 radio production of The Lord of the Rings. She recorded an album of children's stories, read out loud, called Hooray for Captain Jane in the early 1970s.
Lucky break The original star of "Bewitched" was to be Tammy Grimes, an English stage actress who'd just signed a deal with ScreenGems TV. But she didn't like the script. She turned it down in favor of a concept that became The Tammy Grimes Show