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Dame Frances Margaret (Judith) Anderson (1897–1992)

Judith Anderson, by Florence Vandamm, c.1941

Judith Anderson, by Florence Vandamm, c.1941

National Library of Australia, 13180738

An Australian-born Broadway legend and feature film villainess, actress Dame Judith Anderson, best known for her role as the malevolent housekeeper Mrs Danvers in the 1940 classic Rebecca, died on Friday aged 93.

Dame Judith was hospitalised late last year with an undisclosed ailment.

Dame Judith had lived in Santa Barbara, 144km north-west of Los Angeles, since 1950.

A British subject, she received her title from Queen Elizabeth II in 1960.

Dame Judith was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca and won a television Emmy Award in 1954 for Macbeth on NBC's "Hallmark Hall of Fame".

One of her last roles was as a grand dame in NBCs daytime soap opera Santa Barbara. She starred in the serial from its debut in 1984 until 1987.

Dame Judith, originally Frances Margaret Anderson, was born in Adelaide in February, 1898, and educated at Rose Park Primary and Norwood High schools.

She migrated to America in 1918.

Hollywood in its silent days paid no attention to an excruciatingly thin and awkward girl from South Australia.

So Dame Judith went to New York and pursued a theatre job. On Broadway, she eventually played a much-lauded Lady Macbeth, but it was her performance in Robinson Jeffers's Medea that critics considered her best work.

She agreed to star in a revival of the Greek Euripides tragedy only if her favourite poet, Jeffers, would do the adaptation.

Beside Rebecca, her films included King's Row, a 1941 film that featured a young Ronald Reagan; And Then There Were None (1945); Salome (1953); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958); and Don't Bother to Knock (1961).

Her chilly roles were often interpreted as being indicative of her own personality. "I have not myself a very serene temperament," she once said.

In a 1961 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Dame Judith complained, "People always think of me as playing these terrible, terrible women...

"But no one remembers the pleasant people I've played – Mary the mother of Jesus, and so many others. I haven't always been an ogre."

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Citation details

'Anderson, Dame Frances Margaret (Judith) (1897–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Judith Anderson, by Florence Vandamm, c.1941

Judith Anderson, by Florence Vandamm, c.1941

National Library of Australia, 13180738

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lehman, Frances Margaret
  • Greene, Frances Margaret

10 February, 1897
Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


3 January, 1992 (aged 94)
Santa Barbara, California, United States of America

Cause of Death

general debility

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.