Zoe Caldwell

Zoe Ada Caldwell, OBE, actor, director (born 14 September 1933 in Hawthorn, Australia; died 16 February 2020 in Pound Ridge, New York). Zoe Caldwell was an Australian actor who began her career in England before moving to Canada in 1961. She became a prominent leading lady in Canadian theatre, starring in productions at the Stratford Festival, the Shaw Festival and the Manitoba Theatre Centre, as well as on CBC TV. She began performing in the United States in the 1960s and went on to win four Tony Awards, including three for plays produced by her husband, Montreal-born theatre producer Robert Whitehead. Caldwell was also an accomplished director. Her renown as an actor in both classical and modern productions garnered her the Theatre World Award (1966), the Order of the British Empire (1970) and the Bernard B. Jacobs Excellence in Theatre Award (1999).



Early Years

Caldwell was educated in Melbourne, Australia. She made her acting debut with the Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1953. She moved to England and performed with the Stratford-on-Avon Company (1958–61) and the Royal Court Theatre before moving to Canada in 1961.

Career in Canada

In Canada, Caldwell joined the Stratford Festival. She played Rosaline in Shakespeare’s Love's Labour's Lost and Sonja Downfahl in Donald Jack’s The Canvas Barricade, which won the 1961 Canadian play-writing competition sponsored by the Globe and Mail.

During her years in Canada, Caldwell established herself as an actor in both classical and modern roles in television and on stage. In 1962, she performed the role of Lady Macbeth opposite Sean Connery as Macbeth on CBC Festival. In 1976, she was nominated for an International Emmy Award when for her performance as Sarah Bernhardt in the CBC television production Sarah. At the Manitoba Theatre Centre, she played Pegeen Mike in J.M. Synge's Playboy of the Western World (1960-61), as well as the title role in Brecht's Mother Courage (1964-65). She toured with the Canadian Players in 1963 and worked with the  Crest Theatre in 1964. She played Orinthia in George Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart and Lena in Misalliance at the Shaw Festival in 1966. She returned to Stratford in 1967 to play Lady Anne (Richard III), Mistress Page (The Merry Wives of Windsor), and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, which was transferred to the Expo Theatre in October 1967. (See Expo 67; Canada’s Centennial Celebrations, 1967.)

Career in United States

In the 1960s, Caldwell was also establishing herself as an actor in the US. She acted in The Madwoman of Chaillot at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago (1964), and in The Way of the World and The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis (1966). She won the Best Supporting Actress Tony Award for her performance as Polly in Tennessee Williams’s Slapstick Tragedy (1966). Caldwell was later awarded Tony Awards as Best Actress for her performances in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), Medea (1982), and as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class (1995), all three of which were produced by her husband, Montreal-born theatre producer Robert Whitehead.

Among Caldwell’s many film-acting credits, two stand out: her role as the Countess in Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) and her voice work in Disney’s release, Lilo & Stitch (2002).


Directing Career

In 1979 Caldwell made her directing debut at Stratford with Richard II at the Avon Theatre. In 1988, also at Stratford, she directed her friend Christopher Plummer in Macbeth. Other directing highlights include an off-Broadway production of Othello (1981–82), starring Plummer and James Earl Jones, and a Broadway production of Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, starring Jason Robards and Judith Ivey (Music Box Theatre, 1991–92).

Honours

In addition to her four Tony Awards, Caldwell’s renown as an actor in both classical and modern productions garnered her the Theatre World Award (1966), the Order of the British Empire (1970) and the Bernard B. Jacobs Excellence in Theatre Award (1999).


Further Reading

  • Zoe Caldwell, I Will Be Cleopatra (2002).