Betty Buckley

Betty Buckley Headshot

Actress • Singer

Birth Date: July 3, 1947

Age: 76 years old

Birth Place: Big Spring, Texas

A Tony winner for the original Broadway production of "Cats," Betty Buckley became one of musical theater's most acclaimed performers from the late 1960s through the 21st century. In addition to "Cats," which featured her show-stopping rendition of "Memory," she received a Tony nomination for 1997's "Triumph of Love" and an Olivier Award nomination for the 1994 production of "Sunset Blvd." Buckley was also a regular performer on television, most notably for her four-year run as the stepmother of the oversized Bradford brood on "Eight is Enough" (ABC, 1977-1981), and as the prison music teacher on "Oz" (HBO, 1997-2003).

Born Betty Lynn Buckley in Fort Worth, TX, on July 3, 1947, she was the daughter of retired air force colonel and university dean Ernest Buckley and journalist Betty Diltz. She began singing in her local church choir at the age of two, and at three, she was taking dance lessons from her aunt, Mary Ruth Diltz, a former dancer with stage impresario Billy Rose of "Diamond Horseshoe" fame. She trained herself to sing by listening to recordings of Judy Garland and Della Reese, and by age 15, she was performing professionally in local productions and musical reviews.

Buckley won the title of Miss Fort Worth while studying journalism at Texas Christian University, and was invited a year later to perform at the Miss America Pageant. While there, a talent scout persuaded her to audition for agencies in New York, and she was signed by the International Famous Agency while still a junior in college. She later toured Vietnam in the late 1960s with Miss America and reported on her experiences there for The Forth Worth Press.

Journalism might have been Buckley's chosen profession had she not been urged by her agents to put her formidable voice to use on Broadway. She arrived in New York in 1969 and immediately landed the plum role of Martha Jefferson in the musical "1776," for which she was showered with critical acclaim. She then traveled to London to star in the West End production of "Promises, Promises," which earned her an Evening Standard Award nomination in 1970. Back in the States, she graced stages both on and off Broadway in Bob Fosse's "Pippin" and numerous other shows.

Buckley's onscreen career began in 1976 as ill-fated gym teacher Miss Collins, who attempts to care for Sissy Spacek's creepy Carrie White in Brian De Palma's chilling "Carrie." One year later, she recorded the song "Walking in Space" for Milos Forman's film version of the hit musical "Hair" (1977). She then joined the cast of "Eight Is Enough" when actress Diana Hyland, who played star Dick Van Patten's wife, died in 1977 of cancer; Buckley played Sandra "Abby" Abbott, who tutored one of the Bradford's sizable brood, and later married Van Patten's Tom Bradford in a two-hour special. Buckley would remain with the series until its cancellation in 1981, and did not return to the role for two TV movie reunions in 1987 and 1989 (Mary Frann and Sandy Faison played Abby in these projects).

In 1982, Buckley returned to Broadway in Andrew Lloyd Webber's blockbuster musical "Cats." As Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, she performed the show's signature tune, the haunting "Memory," which earned her the 1982 Tony Award. Now a bonafide star of stage and screen, she began to alternate her theatrical performances with impressive turns on television and film. She was a fading country performer and ex-wife to Robert Duvall's reclusive singer-songwriter in Horton Foote's affecting "Tender Mercies" (1983), and earned a Daytime Emmy nomination for the 1984 TV movie "Bobby and Sarah." Meanwhile, she originated the role of Edwin Drood for the New York Shakespeare Festival in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" in 1985 and replaced Bernadette Peters in Webber's "Song and Dance" in 1986. She ended the decade with two high-profile features - Woody Allen's dramatic "Another Woman" (1988) and Roman Polanski's thriller "Frantic" (1988) as Harrison Ford's wife, whose disappearance sets the film's plot in motion, as well as the After School Special "Taking a Stand" (1989), which earned her a Daytime Emmy nomination and featured an original score by Buckley and Keith Herrman.

The Eighties also saw Buckley in one of the Broadway's most legendary disasters-cum-cult favorites, "Carrie - The Musical" (1988), an astonishing song-and-dance adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel. After Margaret Cook was nearly decapitated by an elaborate stage set piece in the London version, Buckley stepped in to play Margaret White, the fanatically religious mother to the production's telekinetic heroine. Cancelled after just 15 performances, it went down in theater history as one of the biggest and most expensive failures ever mounted. Despite the negative press, Buckley was nominated as Best Actress in a Musical by the Outer Critics' Circle.

In 1994, Buckley earned rave reviews as Norma Desmond in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of "Sunset Blvd." She would later take over the role from Glenn Close in the New York version, and stay with the production until 1997. She kept exceptionally busy with film and television work during this period; among her more notable projects was in Lawrence Kasdan's "Wyatt Earp" (1994) as the mother of famed lawman Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner) and his brothers. She would bring the 1990s to a close with another hit Broadway musical, "Triumph of Love" (1997), which earned her another Tony nod as well as a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress. In 1999, Buckley was the subject of the concert film/documentary "Betty Buckley in Concert and in Person," which was part of the "Bravo Profiles" (Bravo, 1994-2003) television series.

As if she had not accomplished enough, Buckley returned to TV series work after being cast as Suzanne Fitzgerald, a former 1960s radical who claims to be the mother of inmate Ryan O'Reily (Dean Winters) on the final two seasons of "Oz" (2001-03). She also maintained her busy touring and recording schedule, which yielded eleven CDs (both as a solo performance and with her band, Quintessence), including 1996's An Evening at Carnegie Hall, as well as a concert DVD, "Stars and the Moon: Betty Buckley Live at the Donmar," which was released in 2002. Buckley also maintained her own production company and record label, KO Records.

Strangely, Buckley was cast in the pilot for the successful drama "Brothers and Sisters" (ABC, 2006- ), but was replaced by Sally Field prior to its pickup by ABC. She returned to television in 2009 as part of the massive cast of "The Pacific" (HBO, 2009), a miniseries about the Pacific campaign in World War II by the creators of "Band of Brothers" (HBO, 2001). She was also featured in M. Night Shymalan's first R-rated supernatural thriller, "The Happening." In addition to her theatrical awards, Buckley was inducted into the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2007, and received honorary doctorates of Fine Arts from Marymount College and the Boston Conservatory of Music.

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