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Broadway Veteran Marian Seldes Dies At 86


This is how Broadway star Marian Seldes described herself, (reading) I know I'm funny because I'm eccentric. I'm odd. I'm not what you expect.

But when her fans showed up to see her perform on stage, they expected her to be great. And she was. The Tony Award-winning actress died this week at the age of 86. A true creature of the theater, Marian Seldes made her mark in the works of Tennessee Williams, Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee. Jeff Lunden has this appreciation.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Tall, angular and patrician, Marian Seldes was the iron lady of New York theater. She made the Guinness Book of World Records for never missing any of the 1,793 Broadway performances of Ira Levin's 1978 thriller, "Deathtrap." Larry Maslon is a theater historian.

LARRY MASLON: She showed up one Saturday matinee, when the show was four or five years into its run, and she signed in backstage. And she turned to another actor and said, isn't it wonderful? We get to do it twice today. And that to me is the quintessential Marian Seldes story. She loved everything about the theater and she loved being a part of it.

LUNDEN: In some ways, Seldes was born for the stage. Her father was a famous critic whose friends included Irving Berlin and the Gershwin Brothers. She made her Broadway debut in a 1947 production of "Medea" starring Dame Judith Anderson and never looked back. Seldes won a Tony award in Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "A Delicate Balance," in 1965, and subsequently premiered several of his other plays.

She told NPR in 2008 that she responded to Albee's precise, grammatically expressive language as if it were a musical score.

MARIAN SELDES: I think Edward's punctuation - the ellipses, the number of periods, of dots after a line - if you allow it to go into you, as you would if you were going to sing, you would follow what he suggests.

LUNDEN: Seldes played one of Albee's "Three Tall Women" in that Pulitzer Prize-winning play, off-Broadway.

SELDES: The happiest moment of all, really? The happiest moment? Coming to the end of it, I think.

LUNDEN: In a television interview, Marian Seldes told critic Linda Winer that her happiest moments were working in the theater.

SELDES: If you can make the project - help make the project that you are working on in the theater into something strong and good, where everyone is able to be his or herself all the time, freely and honestly, then you live a great life. And that's the life I've had.

LUNDEN: Tonight, all of Broadway's marquees will dim their lights for a minute in memory of Marian Seldes. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the original version of this report, Marian Seldes' family name was mispronounced. As she would tell those who did not say it correctly, it is SEL-dess, not SEL-deez.