Elizabeth Wilson, Prolific Character Actress, Dies At 94 In New Haven

Elizabeth Wilson: "I had no desire to be a star."

Elizabeth Wilson, a character actress who appeared in "9 to 5" and "The Graduate" and had a long career on stage, winning a Tony Award in 1972, died Saturday in New Haven.

Wilson was 94. Her death was reported Sunday evening by the New York Times, citing Elizabeth Morton, a close friend.

Wilson's film debut was in "Picnic" with William Holden in 1955. She appeared in "The Goddess" with Kim Stanley, "A Child Is Waiting" with Judy Garland, "Grace Quigley" with Katharine Hepburn, "The Incredible Shrinking Woman" with Lily Tomlin and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds."

She played the part of Benjamin Braddock's mother in "The Graduate," and Roz in "9 to 5," and won a Tony Award in 1972 for David Rabe's "Sticks and Bones."

Wilson told The Courant's Frank Rizzo in July that she was still, at 93, doing readings and master classes. She lived in Branford with her younger sister at the time.

"I had no desire to be a star and a star's responsibility," Wilson told Rizzo. "I wanted to be a character actress and be able to do all kinds of parts and work on a lot of things. That was my unconscious choice. I wanted to be an undercover actress."

Wilson grew up in a wealthy family in Grand Rapids, Mich., and took to acting early. She moved to New York in 1942 and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts with Martha Graham and Sanford Meisner, who changed her life, she told Rizzo.

"When I auditioned for him he said, 'You have talent. Now I'm going to teach you how to act.' He was incredible."

She told Rizzo that in the late '40s an agent offered her a Hollywood contract — if she got plastic surgery and changed her "common" name. "I said, 'I don't think so,' so I still have a big nose, crooked jaw and common name."

Wilson said she had great loves but chose not to marry. "I didn't want to give up my career. That's what kept me alive, kept me going. I couldn't stop -- didn't want to stop -- being all these different characters."

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