Jane Alexander Biography


Home > Actresses > A > Alexander, Jane > Biography


Birth Name: Jane Alexander
Born: 10/28/1939
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Alexander was born Oct. 28, 1939, and raised as the daughter of a prominent Boston-area surgeon. She began acting in school plays as a child, but her first professional ambitions were far from the stage, and after several years studying mathematics at Sarah Lawrence College, she transferred overseas to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Alexander became active with the University Dramatic Society and ultimately decided to pursue theater, returning to Boston where she spent the early 1960s performing with the Charles Playhouse in Boston. Alexander joined the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and in 1968, made a splash on Broadway in "The Great White Hope," earning a Tony, Drama Desk, and Theater World Award for her role as the white mistress of black boxer Jack Johnson (James Earl Jones). In 1970, she and Jones reprised their roles on the movie screen and Alexander earned a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. She remained busiest in theater over the next few years, earning Tony nominations for her roles as a woman searching for the right apartment in the comedy "6 Rms Riv Vu" (1973), and the wife of a bisexual in "Find Your Way Home" (1974).

On television, she gave noteworthy performances as the mother of a cancer-stricken youth (Robby Benson) in "Death Be Not Proud" (ABC, 1975) and received widespread acclaim and Emmy nominations for her affecting portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt (to Edward Herrmann's FDR) in both "Eleanor and Franklin" (ABC, 1976) and "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" (ABC, 1977). She gave another Oscar-nominated supporting performance as a nervous witness of Washington accounting practices in "All the President's Men" (1977). She re-teamed with that film's star Dustin Hoffman in 1979 to play the caring friend of a father adjusting to single parenthood in "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), which also earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. The same year, she gave a Tony-nominated portrayal of the first woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in "First Monday in October" (1979). The actress seemingly could not miss the mark; the following year, she won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress for playing opposite Vanessa Redgrave as the leader of an all-female orchestra in Auschwitz in the superb "Playing for Time" (CBS, 1980).

Returning to the New York stage, Alexander portrayed Annie Sullivan in William Gibson's "Monday After the Miracle" and went on to take the lead in the understated but harrowing nuclear holocaust drama "Testament" (1983), which netted her a second Best Actress Academy Award nomination. Alexander's strong reputation enabled her take on expanded duties in new projects, and in 1984 she produced and starred in the TV biopic "Calamity Jane" (CBS, 1984). She shone as another real-life figure in a deliciously spirited portrayal of gossip queen Hedda Hopper to Elizabeth Taylor's Louella Parsons in "Malice in Wonderland" (CBS, 1985). In Alexander's first role as co-executive producer of a feature film, she went on to give a bravura starring performance as a morally loose and ambivalent mother in "Square Dance" (1987), and the same year, co-starred opposite James Woods in "In Love and War" (1987), which chronicled the story of the U.S. Navy Commander and Vietnam prisoner of war James Stockdale and his wife Sybil. Never straying far from the stage, Alexander starred as Hannah in a revival of Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana" in 1988.

Well-cast as the very proper Bostonian mother of Matthew Broderick in the Civil War drama "Glory" (1989), Alexander's continuing interest in biographical material next led her to producing and starring in the PBS production "A Marriage: Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz" (PBS, 1991), about the famed painter and photographer coupling. In 1992, Alexander earned her fifth Tony Award nomination for playing the eldest of "The Sisters Rosensweig" (1993), and the same year, she accepted President Bill Clinton's nomination to head the National Endowment for the Arts. No stranger to playing a role in public affairs, Alexander had already made a name for herself as a board member of organizations, including the American Council for the Arts, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the National Stroke Association. After four fractious years, during which Alexander managed to protect the National Endowment from a Newt Gingrich led-congress of conservatives bent on dissolving the NEA, Alexander tendered her resignation and moved back to New York City. She promptly returned to the Broadway stage in "Honour" (1998), a play about a man who leaves his wife (Alexander) for a younger woman in which Alexander imbued a rather clich├ęd role with dignity and grace, earning a sixth Tony Award nomination. She went on to lend strength and warmth to the supporting role of Nurse Edna, one of the two women aiding in the operation of an orphanage, in the popular film adaptation of John Irving's "The Cider House Rules" (1999).

For her guest-starring role in a two-part crossover "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 2000) - both of which were directed by her husband Ed Sherin - Alexander received another Emmy nomination. Writer-director John Sayles tapped her for a small role in his "Sunshine State" (2002) and that same year, the actress was a surprising sight in the mainstream hit horror film "The Ring" (2002). Harking back to an earlier acclaimed production in Alexander's career, she took on another project chronicling the early lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt with a supporting role as the polio-stricken future president's hard-hearted mother Sara in the acclaimed HBO telepic "Warm Springs" (2005), and took home an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie. In 2007, she returned to movie theaters as part of the ensemble cast of Robert Benton's romantic meditation "Feast of Love" (2007) and took the first regular series television role of her career, starring as a couples therapist (and half of a couple in therapy themselves) on the well-reviewed, sexually graphic drama "Tell Me You Love Me" (HBO, 2007), which only lasted several episodes on HBO. Alexander continued to maintain a steady presence on film with supporting roles as the mother of a single man (Paul Dano) trying to adopt a baby from China in the madcap indie comedy "Gigantic" (2008). She also appeared in commercial fare, including the fourth installment of the "Terminator" franchise, "Terminator Salvation" (2009), and the thriller "The Unborn" (2009), in which she played the matriarch of a family haunted by a malicious spirit.

By Susan Clarke




Browse More Actresses:
# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z