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Eileen Heckart

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Eileen Heckart

Eileen Heckart
Eileen Heckart in Bus Stop (1956)
Born Anna Eileen Herbert (adopted shortly afterwards by her grandfather)
(1919-03-29)March 29, 1919
Columbus, Ohio, U.S.
Died December 31, 2001(2001-12-31) (aged 82)
Norwalk, Connecticut, U.S.
Resting place
Occupation Actress
Years active 1943–2000
Spouse(s) John Harrison Yankee, Jr. (m. 1942–97)

Eileen Heckart (March 29, 1919 – December 31, 2001) was an American actress of film, stage, and television.

Early life

Heckart was born Anna Eileen Herbert[1][2] in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of Esther Stark, who wed Leo Herbert (not the child's father) at her own mother's insistence so her child would not be born with the stigma of illegitimacy. The child was soon after legally adopted by her maternal grandmother's wealthy second husband, J.W. Heckart, the surname by which she would be known her entire life. She had two stepsisters, Anne and Marilyn. She graduated from Ohio State University with a B.A. in drama.[1]



Heckart began her Broadway career as the assistant stage manager and an understudy for The Voice of the Turtle in 1943. Her many credits include Picnic, The Bad Seed, A View from the Bridge, A Memory of Two Mondays, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, A Family Affair, And Things That Go Bump in the Night, Barefoot in the Park, Butterflies Are Free, You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running, and The Cemetery Club.

In 2000, at age 81, she appeared off-Broadway in Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery, receiving more awards for a single performance in a single season than any actress in theatre history, including the Drama Desk Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, the Drama League Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. That same year, she was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and received an honorary Tony Award for lifetime achievement.

Other awards include the 1953 Theatre World Award for Picnic. Her nominations include Tony Award nominations for Butterflies Are Free (play), Invitation to a March, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. She was granted three honorary doctorates by Sacred Heart University, Niagara University and Ohio State University.

Film and television

Heckart won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her work in the 1972 movie adaptation of Butterflies Are Free and was nominated in 1956 for her performance as the bereaved, besotted Mrs. Daigle in The Bad Seed. She also appeared as a Vietnam War widow in the Clint Eastwood film, Heartbreak Ridge. She played Diane Keaton's meddling mother in the 1996 comedy film The First Wives Club. She had starring roles in The Five Mrs. Buchanans, Out of the Blue, Partners in Crime, Backstairs at the White House (Emmy nomination as Eleanor Roosevelt), and guest spots on The Fugitive (where she appeared in three episodes as a nun, "Sister Veronica"), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (two Emmy nominations as journalist Flo Meredith, a role she carried over to a guest appearance on MTM's spinoff Lou Grant), Love Story, Rhoda, Alice, Murder One, Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, Cybill, The Cosby Show, and many others.

Heckart played two unrelated characters on the daytime soap opera One Life to Live. During the 1980s, she played Ruth Perkins, the mother of Allison Perkins, who had kidnapped the newborn baby of heroine Vicky Lord Buchanan under orders from phony evangelist and mastermind criminal Mitch Laurence. During the early 1990s, she played the role of Wilma Bern, mother of upstate Pennsylvania mob boss Carlo Hesser and his meek twin, Mortimer Bern. She appeared in the 1954 NBC legal drama Justice, based on case files of New York's Legal Aid Society.[3] She appeared in an episode of the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour, "There Should Be an Outfit Called 'Families Anonymous!'" (1963).

Personal life

Heckart was married to John Harrison Yankee, Jr. from 1942 until his death in 1997. Her son Luke Yankee is the author of Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart (ISBN 0-8230-7888-4), published by Back Stage Books in 2006.


On December 31, 2001, Heckart died of lung cancer at her home in Norwalk, Connecticut at the age of 82.[4] She was survived by her three children and her two stepsisters.


The Eileen Heckart Collection was established at Ohio State University's Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute, with her notes, copies of scripts, and personal papers. In 2005, the Eileen Heckart Drama for Seniors Competition was established in her memory by Ohio State's Department of Theatre. Her sons also established a scholarship at Ohio State in her name.

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Heckart has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6162 Hollywood Blvd.


Year Title Role Notes
1956 Miracle in the Rain Grace Ullman
1956 Somebody Up There Likes Me Ma Barbella
1956 Bus Stop Vera
1956 Bad Seed, TheThe Bad Seed Hortense Daigle Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1958 Hot Spell Alma's Friend
1960 Heller in Pink Tights Mrs. Lorna Hathaway
1967 Up the Down Staircase Henrietta Pastorfield
1968 No Way to Treat a Lady Mrs. Brummel
1969 Tree, TheThe Tree Sally Dunning
1972 Butterflies Are Free Mrs. Baker Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1974 Zandy's Bride Ma Allan
1975 Hiding Place, TheThe Hiding Place Katje
1976 Burnt Offerings Roz Allardyce
1983 Trauma Center Amy Decker R.N.
1986 Seize the Day Funeral Woman #1
1986 Heartbreak Ridge Little Mary Jackson
1994 5 Mrs. Buchanans, TheThe 5 Mrs. Buchanans Emma Buchanan
1996 First Wives Club, TheThe First Wives Club Catherine MacDuggan National Board of Review Award for Best Cast

See also


  1. ^ a b "On March 29, 1919, Anna Eileen Herbert was born, and her surname was quickly changed to Heckart." Yankee, Luke. Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up with Eileen Heckart. BackStage Books (2006), p. 16; ISBN 0-8230-7888-4; Library of Congress Control# 2006921113
  2. ^  
  3. ^ "Justice". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ Costagregni, Susie. "Director grabs a coffee before daughter's wedding", The Advocate, p. A2 (June 24, 2006)

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