Bernadette Peters is an American actress, singer and children's book author, who is famous as one of Broadway's biggest stars. Working successfully on musical theatre, television, films, and music for nearly six decades, she has been described as "an ageless storybook princess". She is particularly known for working on the musicals plays of legendary composer, Stephen Sondheim, according to whom, she is a rare artist who "sings and acts at the same time". However, it was not originally her idea to be in the show business; her mother played a huge part in making Peters an all-American star. Much of her career was built upon the ambitions of her mother, who enrolled her daughters in acting, singing and dancing classes and took them to auditions when they were very young. Eventually, she won two 'Tony Awards', three 'Drama Desk Awards', one 'Golden Globe Award' and four 'Grammy Awards' as part of her Broadway cast. She became the youngest performer to be inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame. She also has six solo albums and performs regularly in her solo concerts.
Childhood & Early Life
Bernadette Lazzara was born on February 28, 1948, in Ozone Park, Queens, New York, to Peter and Marguerite Lazzara. Her father drove an Italian bread delivery truck. She has two older siblings, Joseph and Donna.
When she was only three years old, her mother put her on the television game show 'Juvenile Jury'. She was one of the child participants on the show 'Name That Tune' and also was a regular on 'The Horn and Hardart Children's Hour'.
She started taking tap dancing lessons at the age of five and later took acting and singing classes. She attended Quintano's School for Young Professionals.
When she was 9, her mother suggested her to change her surname to avoid ethnic stereotyping while getting cast on shows. She changed her name to Bernadette Peters when she got her Equity Card in 1958. The surname was a play on her father's first name.
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Bernadette Peters debuted on stage on Jan 27, 1958, in the pre-Broadway try-out of the comedy 'This is Goggle'. The next year, she made her Broadway debut in the play 'Johnny No-Trump'.
During her teenage years, she featured on shows like 'The Most Happy Fella' (1959), 'The Penny Friend' (1966) and 'The Girl In The Freudian Slip' (1967). In 1968, she came into the limelight for winning a 'Theatre World Award' for her role in 'George M!' and a 'Drama Desk Award' for the parody musical 'Dames at Sea'.
In 1971, she won the first 'Tony Award' nomination for her portrayal of Hildy in the Leonard Bernstein musical 'On the Town'. She received another Tony nomination in 1974 for playing Mabel Normand in the musical 'Mack and Mabel'.
After starring roles in a few movies, she returned to stage in 1983 to feature in the award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical 'Sunday in the Park with George'. She received nominations for both 'Tony Award' and 'Drama Desk Award' for portraying Dot/Marie.
In 1985, she won her first 'Tony Award' for her lead role in the musical 'Song And Dance'. Peters, who was the sole cast in the first act of the play, also earned a 'Drama Desk Award' for her performance.
She went on to receive critical acclaim for portraying the Witch in another Sondheim musical 'Into The Woods' (1987) and for playing Paula in the play 'The Goodbye Girl' (1993).
In 1999, she portrayed the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the fictionalized musical 'Annie Get Your Gun', which brought her multiple prestigious awards.
Film & Television Career
Bernadette Peters made her film debut in 1973 as Allison in 'Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies'. She went on to play a supporting role in 'Silent Movie' in 1976, and received her first 'Golden Globe' nomination. The same year, she received another 'Golden Globe' nomination for her work on the television series 'All's Fair'.
Peters, who appeared on a number of television shows throughout the years, won her first 'Emmy Award' nomination in 1978 for her performance on 'The Muppet Show'. She won a 'Golden Globe Award' for her lead role in the movie 'Pennies from Heaven' in 1981.
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She continued to play major roles in a number of movies and television shows in the following years, but shifted her focus back to stage plays in the early 1980s. She later received two more Emmy nominations; for her guest role in the TV series 'Ally McBeal' in 2001 and for her starring role in the TV movie 'Bobbie's Girl' in 2003.
Bernadette Peters starred in the Broadway production of 'Song And Dance' for over a year. 'New York Times' showered praise on her saying "she has no peer in the musical theater right now".
'Annie Get Your Gun' is her most critically successful performance, in which she played the lead character. She won both a 'Tony Award' and a 'Drama Desk Award' for her role in the musical.
Awards & Achievements
For her work on stage, Bernadette Peters, has won two 'Tony Awards' from seven nominations and three 'Drama Desk Awards' from nine nominations. She has also received an honorary 'Tony Award'.
She won the 'Golden Globe Award' for 'Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy' for her role in the film 'Pennies from Heaven'. She went on to receive two more 'Golden Globe' nominations and three 'Emmy Award' nominations. She received a star on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' in 1987.
She has been part of four Broadway cast albums that have won 'Grammy Awards'. She also received three nominations for the 'Grammy Awards' for her solo traditional pop albums.
Personal Life & Legacy
Bernadette Peters started a romantic relationship with actor Steve Martin in 1977. However, the couple separated about four years later.
She married Michael Wittenberg, an investment adviser, on July 20, 1996, in Millbrook, New York, at the home of her long-time friend Mary Tyler Moore. Her husband died on September 26, 2005, in a plane crash in Montenegro. The couple did not have any children.
As an animal lover, she co-founded the animal adoption charity, 'Broadway Barks', and has written three children's books on her pet dogs. Her husband shared her love for animals and together they adopted many dogs from various pet shelters.
She is a member of the Board of Trustees of 'Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS'. She is also a director at 'Standing Tall', a non-profit educational program for children with disabilities.
In 1961, Bernadette Peters was an understudy for the role of Dainty June, in the touring production of 'Gypsy', and played the role on stage only once. However, her mother purposefully omitted that she was an "understudy" while mentioning 'Gypsy' in her resume.
Even though Bernadette’s mother changed Bernadette’s surname on the excuse that it was too long to fit nicely on a marquee, the new one was just one letter shorter. She actually intended to hide her Italian ancestry.