Rosemary Murphy: Perfect, Regal, Real

Rosemary Murphy and Phillip Alford in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

I have never had an experience with Rosemary [Murphy] that was not fraught with peril and fear--all on my end, I should add. Rosemary came to the rescue of Period of Adjustment when, during a penitential time in Florida, the actress playing Dorothea simply wasn't up to particular needs, which is to say she wasn't funny while also being terribly real and--perilous. Rosemary walked into the production and was perfect, regal, real, and remarkable. That the play doesn't work is not due to her efforts or those of another great fighter--Barbara Baxley. I didn't get that play right, but it will survive, I think. One is fond of one's aberrant children.

Rosemary was also my initial Hannah [of The Night of the Iguana], and she can move with alarming and admirable rapidity between the rural simplicity she has often been called on to convey right into poetic horror right into a blistering elegance, which is harder than it looks. One sees Rosemary's craft at work but one also sees her humanity. This is rare. Iguana wasn't where it needed to be when she played the part, but she slipped into peril beautifully.

Jessica Tandy, Rosemary Murphy, and Hume Cronyn on the cover of the Playbill for A Delicate Balance, which opened in September of 1966.

Her greatest performance, in my estimation, was in Edward's [Albee] A Delicate Balance, in which she was a poisoned-tip scimitar of pain and truth, all carried by a carriage of elegance held up solely in the interests of another drink, another merciless critique, another brutal assault on whatever reality--or myth of reality--the other characters were harboring. The theatre is ephemeral, which makes it magical and infuriating, and if the gift existed whereby we could conjure up a lost stage performance Rosemary's Claire would be one that I would exhume. She shot some glances toward Jessica [Tandy] that left me afraid for the life of a dear friend, and I could teach a master class on how she handles a glass of alcohol.  [Which Tennessee did, holding the glass, as he put it, "Like a neophyte priest or a fearful Catholic with the Host."]

Rosemary and I share some pain, I think. We've both been through some tough times, and we share a--dare I say it?--perilous family album. This allowed me to feel comfortable around her, even as we both presented personalities designed to entertain and deflect. I wish we had become friends;  I wish we had worked together more often. I think she wants to get things right.

Another thing: I have come to know--through others--that Rosemary and I hate some of the same people, for the same reasons. That is a wonderful foundation on which to work and to build a friendship.

Rosemary Murphy, on the night in May of 1976, when she won an Emmy for her role of Sara in Eleanor and Franklin. Murphy is flanked by David Susskind and Harry Sherman, producers, James Costigan, the writer, and Daniel Petrie, the director.

© 2014 James Grissom


  1. She was the best Clair, ever. Thank you for this, James. One of my fondest memories was her performance in ANY WEDNESDAY with the divine Sandy Dennis. When they had to leave to make their reservation appointment at the restaurant ("Where the waiter's really care," Rosemary) and leave Sandy's untouched dip behind, Rosemary offered: "We'll take it with us!." Carrie Nye loved the dickens out of her. "She's so bossy, I love that, she'll show up at my apartment and announce: "Come on, we're going to the beach." And before I know what hit me, I'm sitting in the back of some fucking car clutching a goddamn beach bag. I love that."


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