Worth, Irene


Worth, Irene
▪ 2003
Harriet Elizabeth Abrams 
      American actress (b. June 23, 1915/16, Lincoln, Neb.—d. March 10, 2002, New York, N.Y.), had a distinguished half-century-long international career, especially on the New York City and London stages. Known for her elegance, her rich contralto voice, and her intelligent interpretation of roles, she shone in both classical and modern works. Worth spent five years as a teacher before moving to New York City and landing a part in the touring company of Escape Me Never. She made her Broadway debut in 1943 in The Two Mrs. Carrolls and then went to London to hone her acting skills. Worth first appeared in fringe theatres and found her breakthrough role in The Cocktail Party, first at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949, returning with it to Broadway in 1950, and later that year taking over from the West End star. She then (1951) joined the Old Vic Company, where her early roles included Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1951), Desdemona in Othello (1951), Portia in The Merchant of Venice (1953), and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (1953), and became (1953) a founding member of the Shakespeare Festival Theatre at Stratford, Ont., and (1962) a member of England's Royal Shakespeare Company. On Broadway, Worth was especially celebrated for her Tony Award-winning roles in Tiny Alice (best actress, 1965), Sweet Bird of Youth (best actress, 1976), and Lost in Yonkers (best featured actress, 1991). Although Worth was primarily noted for her stage appearances, she also gained acclaim for her performances in a number of television productions and motion pictures, among them the films Orders to Kill (1958), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Deathtrap (1982), and Lost in Yonkers (1993). Worth was made an honorary CBE in 1975.

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▪ American actress
original name  Harriet Abrams 
born June 23, 1916, Fairbury, Nebraska, U.S.
died March 10, 2002, New York, New York

      American actress noted for her versatility and aristocratic bearing. Although she had her greatest success on the stages of London's West End, she also earned three Tony awards for her work on Broadway.

      Worth trained as a teacher at the University of California, Los Angeles (B.Ed., 1937), and taught for a few years before turning to the theatre. She made her stage debut in a touring production of Escape Me Never (1942) and her Broadway debut in The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1943). In 1944 she settled in London, where she remained for much of her career. While a pupil of legendary dramatics coach Elsie Fogerty (Fogerty, Elsie), Worth made her London debut in The Time of Your Life in 1946. She quickly established herself as an actress of uncommon versatility and presence. Her other roles during this period included performances in Native Son (1948) and The Cocktail Party (1949–50).

      With the Old Vic Theatre during the early 1950s, Worth portrayed numerous Shakespearean characters, including Desdemona (Othello), Helena (A Midsummer Night's Dream), and Portia (The Merchant of Venice). In 1953 she helped found the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and appeared there in All's Well That Ends Well and Richard III. According to one critic, she “established her importance once and for all” with an acclaimed and erotically charged portrayal of Goneril in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of King Lear (1962). In 1965 Worth premiered the lead role in Edward Albee (Albee, Edward)'s Tiny Alice in New York City; she won her first Tony award for that performance. She later appeared internationally in Hedda Gabler (1970), The Seagull (1973), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1975), receiving a second Tony award for her performance in the latter production. Her best-known role of later years was that of the domineering Grandma Kurnitz in Neil Simon (Simon, Neil)'s Lost in Yonkers (1991). She was awarded another Tony for this role, which she repeated in the film adaptation two years later.

      Worth's other motion pictures included Orders to Kill (1958), for which she received the British Film Academy Award, The Scapegoat (1959), and Seven Seas to Calais (1963). She also performed extensively on radio in England. Worth was equally adept at classical drama, standard modern repertory fare, farce, and avant-garde theatre (the genre she enjoyed most). She was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975. After suffering a stroke in 1999, Worth recovered and returned to the stage; her final role was in the two-character play I Take Your Hand in Mine (2001). Upon her death, the Guardian newspaper declared her “an actor of a quality that no self-respecting playgoer would voluntarily miss, in anything.”

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Universalium. 2010.

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