Elizabeth Ashley is an American actor who is known for playing bold and robust characters. The gorgeous actor is majorly popular as a ‘Broadway’ performer and has also worked in several films and TV shows. Elizabeth tasted success at an early stage of her career. In the first decade of her career, she was nominated for a 'BAFTA' and a 'Golden Globe' and won a ‘Tony’ award, too. Some of the characters that Elizabeth has played to date have had a certain kind of impact on her life. She has retired twice from her acting career: once, when she married for the second time and got busy with her family, and the second time, when she had a terrible accident that left her with a disfigured jaw. Her pure love for acting has beckoned her every time. Elizabeth was never trained for stage plays. Instead, she learned the 'Bolshoi' style of ballet from a Russian ballet teacher in New Orleans. From age 5 to 17, Elizabeth polished her dance skills. At 14, she tried for 'Houston Ballet,’ and by the time she hit her late teens, Elizabeth began working in theater. In 1977, she was brutally raped by three men, and it took her 16 years to make it public. Elizabeth has been married thrice and has a son from her second marriage. She currently lives a peaceful and non-glamorous life in New York.
Childhood & Early Life
Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Ann Cole, on born August 30, 1939, in Florida, to Lucille and Arthur Kingman Cole. Her father, Arthur, was a music teacher. She grew up in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Hers was a typical Gothic Southern family.
Elizabeth was the only child of her parents and was dyslexic. Nonetheless, she worked hard to learn to read. Elizabeth eventually developed an interest in reading. Her favorite author is Ernest Hemingway.
After graduating high school, Elizabeth went to the 'Louisiana State University' for a semester. However, deep down, she always knew that she would never qualify. She then decided to move to New York, where her ‘Broadway’ career took off.
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Elizabeth has had a long association with theater. Since 1958, she has been delivering remarkable stage performances. In 1958, Elizabeth played a role in the ‘West End’ musical 'Expresso Bongo' by 'Original London Production.' The following year, she made her ‘Broadway’ debut with the short-lived holiday drama 'The Highest Tree' and her ‘off-Broadway’ debut with ‘Dirty Hands.’
In 1961, Elizabeth won a 'Tony' award for her role of a college student named ‘Mollie Michaelson’ in the ‘Broadway’ play 'Take Her, She’s Mine.' Elizabeth had bagged the role after the powerful theater critic trio of Stevens, Kerr, and Walter suggested her name to the director. The huge accomplishment at such a young age, however, led Elizabeth to a nervous breakdown.
Elizabeth played ‘Corie Bratter,’ opposite Robert Redford, in the ‘Broadway’ play titled 'Barefoot in the Park' 2 years later. The role earned her a 'Tony' nomination for the ‘Best Actress’ and was specially written for her by award-winning American playwright Neil Simon. Following the success of the show, Elizabeth was featured on the cover of 'LIFE' magazine and was regarded as "Broadway’s brightest."
In 1972, Elizabeth portrayed the character of ‘Maggie Train’ in 'Ring around the Bathtub,' and 2 years later, she played ‘Maggie’ in the ‘Broadway’ revival of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.' The latter role is close to the actor’s heart. To Elizabeth, her look as ‘Maggie’ has been one of the best in her entire career. It also revived her acting career. She played ‘Cleopatra’ in the 1977 ‘Broadway’ production 'Caesar and Cleopatra.'
Elizabeth played the role of ‘Alexandra del Lago’ in the 1998 play 'Sweet Bird of Youth.' According to her, this was the role she owned. Elizabeth felt the role fitted her like a glove. She got into the skin of the character, who was portrayed as a fading film star. Elizabeth had reunited with Michael Kahn for the play, years after 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'
Elizabeth’s notable career got another gem when she bagged the role of the villainous ‘Regina Giddens’ in the classic melodrama 'The Little Foxes.' The character was written keeping Elizabeth in mind and is now considered one of American theater’s most-loved hideous figures. The ‘Shakespeare Theater’ play opened in 2002. ‘Regina’ is one of the fiercest characters Elizabeth has played to date.
Elizabeth played ‘Stella Gordon’ in the 2007 ‘off-Broadway’ (‘Broadway’ in 2008) play 'Dividing the Estate.' Her portrayal as the matriarch in the Horton Foote play was outstanding. She had fun playing a controlling and an obsessive "know-it-all" woman. Stella is somewhat like ‘Elizabeth’ in real life. The character was said to be similar to her great-great aunt from Georgia who, in her younger days, was labeled as a "Southern belle.”
In 2008, Elizabeth played the titular lead in the German one-act play 'Zerline’s Tale.' ‘Zerline’ is regarded as the toughest characters Elizabeth has ever played in her career. The play was a stage adaptation of a short story by Austrian writer Hermann Broch and opened at 'Hartford Stage.'
Some of Elizabeth’s other notable plays are 'The Skin of Our Teeth' (1975), 'Legend' (1976), 'Hide and Seek' (1980), 'Agnes of God' (1982), 'When She Danced' (1990), and 'If Memory Serves' (1999). Some of her recent works that opened after 2010 are Gore Vidal's ‘The Best Man' (2012), 'You Can't Take It with You' (2014), and 'The Night of the Iguana' (2017).
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Elizabeth has acted in a few films, too. She made her big-screen debut in 1964, with the drama film 'The Carpetbaggers.' The movie was a huge box-office success and earned her a 'Golden Globe' nomination for the ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ The following year, Elizabeth was seen as ‘Jenny Brown’ in 'Ship of Fools' and as ‘Alexandria Mallory’ in the suspense thriller 'The Third Day.' Elizabeth had a negative role in the 1980 erotic thriller 'Windows.'
Some of Elizabeth’s other films are 'The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker' (1971), 'Rancho Deluxe' (1975), 'Coma' (1978), 'Paternity' (1981), 'Dragnet' (1987), and 'Vampire's Kiss' (1989). Some of her recent big-screen releases are 'Happiness' (1998), 'The Cake Eaters' (2007), and 'Just Getting Started' (2017). Elizabeth has also acted in a couple of short films, namely, 'Fry Day' and 'Severance.'
Elizabeth was initially cast in the role of the governor of New Jersey in the 1995 movie 'Mallrats.' After filming an entire sequence, she dropped out because of her schedule issues.
Elizabeth made her TV debut in 1961, with the courtroom drama series 'The Defenders.' One of her most prominent TV roles was that of ‘Aunt Frieda Evans’ from the 'CBS' sitcom 'Evening Shade.' She played the lead in the series and earned an 'Emmy' nomination for ‘Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series’ for her performance in the series.
Some of Elizabeth’s other TV projects are 'The Two Mrs. Grenvilles' (1987), 'Ben Casey' (1962), 'Route 66' (1963), 'Mission: Impossible' (1971 and 1973), 'Family' (1977), 'The Hitchhiker' (1985), 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit' (1999), and 'Homicide: Life on the Street' (1999). From 2010 to 2013, Elizabeth appeared as ‘Aunt Mimi’ in the 'HBO' series 'Treme.'
Elizabeth is currently playing ‘Ruth Brenner’ in the 'Netflix' comedy series 'Russian Doll.'
Ashley released the hardcover edition of her autobiography, 'Actress: Postcards from the Road,' on June 1, 1978, through 'M. Evans & Co.' (now part of the 'Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group'). The paperback edition of the book was launched on October 12, 1979, through 'Fawcett.'
The Horrifying Secret
One of Elizabeth’s long-time friends, Mary Martin, was raped years back. Elizabeth testified against the convict at the ‘Metro Courthouse’ in Nashville. The whole incident motivated her to reveal the dark secret that had been a burden on her since ages. Like Mary, Elizabeth had been raped by three men years back.
In 1977, Elizabeth was attacked and then raped by three drunken men at a shuttered gas station located amidst a lonely stretch of Interstate 5, near Bakersfield, California. The rapists had then robbed all the cash she had and had left a bruised Elizabeth on the deserted road.
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The incident had hit Elizabeth hard, and she was in trauma for a long time. She would spend hours in the bathroom, washing herself, and did not want to go out or talk to people. She struggled to face her son (Christian) back in Los Angeles. She could not muster enough courage to report her rape. That was when she began doubting her mothering abilities, as she had always been an example to her son.
About 10 months later, Elizabeth sold everything and sent her son to live with his father. She then moved to St. Barthélemy, an island in the Caribbean. Her son would visit her from time to time. Her life changed on the island, and she transformed into a new person.
In 1981, Elizabeth came back to her mother, who was then suffering from cancer. She was broke, and thus accepted the offer to host an episode of 'Saturday Night Live.' However, the incident haunted Elizabeth every now and then, especially, while she played a psychiatrist in the ‘Broadway’ play 'Agnes of God.'
Relationships & Married Life
Elizabeth has been married thrice, but all of her marriages ended in divorce. While Elizabeth was creating her ‘Broadway’ career, she met actor James Farentino and fell in love with him. They got married in 1962 and divorced in 1965.
Elizabeth then married her 'The Carpetbaggers' and 'The Third Day' co-star George Peppard Jr. in 1966. Her only child, Christian, was born on March 11, 1968. Elizabeth and George divorced in 1972. Actor Carroll Baker’s autobiography mentioned that George had wanted to have a sexual relationship with Carroll. She had not accepted his proposal, and out of rage, George had threatened Caroll that if she denied, he would make love to Elizabeth. True to his word, George had begun his affair with Elizabeth, which had then ruined both their marriages.
In 1975, Elizabeth got married a third time, to James McCarthy. The marriage ended in 1981.
Elizabeth had become close to playwright Tennessee Williams while working on the play 'Camino Real.'
Family & Personal Life
Elizabeth had several jaw surgeries after she was severely injured in a devastating Caribbean sailing accident in the mid-1980s. She went on a career break but came back with low self-confidence.
In 1999, while Elizabeth was working on her autobiography, her rented New York apartment caught fire. All her mementos were destroyed. Only a partially burned duffel bag filled with more than $10,000 could be saved. Investigators suggested that the fire was probably caused by a smoldering cigarette that Elizabeth had thrown in the trash when she had gone out for breakfast that day.