Shirley Knight (1936 – 2020) on screen 1955 – 2018. Obituary after the jump.
Shirley Knight, an outspoken actress who soared to acclaim in her 20s with two Academy Award nominations and later won a Tony Award on Broadway and three Emmy Awards for her television roles, died April 22 at her daughter’s home in San Marcos, Tex. She was 83.
Miss Knight was an immediate success in Hollywood and was considered one of the most skilled actresses of her generation, with a particular talent for dramas about families on the edge.
Her Oscar nominations for best supporting actress came in the filmed versions of two Broadway plays, William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” (1960) and Tennessee Williams’s “Sweet Bird of Youth” (1962). In both films, she portrayed young, somewhat naive women caught up in the troubled, turbulent lives of those around her.
She had major roles in several movies, including Sidney Lumet’s “The Group” (1966), about the lives of graduates of an elite women’s college, and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rain People” (1969), about a disillusioned housewife who leaves home to roam the country. She appeared in the incendiary off-Broadway racial drama “Dutchman,” written by Amiri Baraka, about a white woman who seduces a black man riding the subway, then starred in the 1966 film version of the play.
But Miss Knight had a penchant for speaking her mind, calling out famous actors she considered frauds and, essentially, burning every bridge that led to Hollywood. “The Oscar nominations?” she told the New York Times in 1967. “Listen, they give Oscars to people like Charlton Heston. All the cliches about Hollywood are true. It’s silly to knock it, because it’s so obviously stupid. The movie business is run by blockheads.”
Over time, Miss Knight slowly came to terms with Hollywood and took on dozens of film and TV roles, from “Barnaby Jones” and “Law & Order” to the 1997 movie “As Good as It Gets,” for which Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won best-acting Oscars.
From 2005 to 2007, Miss Knight had a recurring role in “Desperate Housewives,” and she played Kevin James’s mother in the 2009 movie comedy “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and its 2015 sequel. Her final starring film role was in 2013’s “Redwood Highway,” about an aging woman who walks 80 miles to the Oregon coastline in search of her past and a measure of independence.
“I started acting in 1958,” Miss Knight told the New York Post in 2005, “and I’ve never been out of work.
“If you’re an actress, the one thing you mustn’t do is tamper with your body and your face. When you do that, you sort of take yourself out of the game. I mean, bless her, but what roles can Elizabeth Taylor play except an older woman who’s had a facelift?
“My colleagues, like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, we’re all working. And it has to do, on a very simple level, with acting our age.”