Actress Nancy Marchand Dies at 71

Tuesday, June 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STRATFORD, Conn. (AP) — Nancy Marchand, a shy woman who played a powerful newspaper publisher on ``Lou Grant'' and turned the Machiavellian matriarch of a Mafia family into a popular character on ``The Sopranos,'' died a day before her 72nd birthday.

The Emmy-winning actress died Sunday night at her home of lung cancer, HBO spokeswoman Tobe Becker said.

While Marchand excelled on the stage, she was most lauded for her TV roles — four consecutive Emmys on ``Lou Grant,'' from 1979 through 1982, and a nomination for her role on ``The Sopranos.''

Marchand, who once said she was comfortable on stage but uneasy meeting people one-on-one, showed no fear as either Livia Soprano or patrician publisher Margaret Pynchon. Both women were in control — Livia of a dysfunctional mobster family, Mrs. Pynchon of the newspaper where the gruff Grant, played by Ed Asner, was city editor.

As Mrs. Pynchon, Marchand was a formidable character in the mold of Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham, whose Watergate-immortalized partnership with editor Ben Bradlee was mirrored by Marchand and Asner in the series, set at the mythical Los Angeles Tribune.

In ``The Sopranos'', Livia was sullen, self-pitying and Machiavellian. Intent upon destroying her own son, Tony, played by James Gandolfini, she conspired with her brother-in-law, Tony's underhanded rival, for the family business.

Producers of the HBO series, a critical favorite, had envisioned Livia for just a handful of episodes. The character proved so popular that the role was continued, and Marchand continued to work on ``The Sopranos'' after her cancer diagnosis.

She first made television history starring in one of the best-known productions of the golden age of live TV, the 1953 NBC production of Paddy Chayefsky's ``Marty.'' The show starred Rod Steiger as a man who fears he is so unattractive he will never find romance. He meets a girl, played by Marchand, with the same insecurities.

The program was remade as a Hollywood film with Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair in the lead roles. It won Oscars for best picture — unprecedented for a story originally written for TV — and for Borgnine.

On film, Marchand appeared in ``Dear God'' with Greg Kinnear, the 1995 remake of ``Sabrina,'' ``Regarding Henry'' and the first of the ``Naked Gun'' comedies, among many others.

Marchand also appeared on numerous TV shows, including ``Homicide: Life on the Street,'' ``Coach,'' ``Night Court'' and ``Cheers.''

Her Broadway and off-Broadway credits were lengthy, including a Tony-nominated performance in ``White Liars and Black Comedy'' and Obie-winning roles in ``The Cocktail Hour'' and ``The Balcony.''

She told The New York Times in 1988 that she felt shy in social situations, but ``when I'm on the stage, I can embrace people and still feel safe. There are a lot of different facets to my personality that I don't use all the time in my house, or in everyday life, that I can experience and share when I'm on a stage.''

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1928, Marchand described herself in a Dallas Morning News interview last year as a ``very shy, overly big, kind of creepy-looking kid.''

``My mother worried that I wasn't going to be social,'' she said. ``I came from the kind of family where you made yourself well-liked; you were very attractive; you knew all the rules, like getting up when a lady or older person entered the room. You know, junk like that. But I didn't do it.''

Marchand's husband of 47 years, Paul Sparer, died in November, also of cancer. She is survived by three children, David, Kathryn and Rachel.