OBITUARIES

Rosemary Murphy dies at 89; actress in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Rosemary Murphy dies at 89; actress in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

Rosemary Murphy, a Broadway and film actress known for her role in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and for her Emmy-winning performance in the television drama "Eleanor and Franklin," died Saturday at home in New York, said her agent, Jonathan Mason. She was 89 and had been diagnosed in June with esophageal cancer.

In the 1962 classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," Murphy played the sympathetic part of Miss Maudie Atkinson, neighbor to widower lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, who becomes a pariah in the small Alabama town for defending a black man accused a raping a white woman.

In an emotional scene late in the film, Maudie comforts Finch's son, Jem, telling him, "There are some men in this world who are born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them."

Her authentic Southern accent as Miss Maudie masked the fact that Murphy was born in Munich, Germany (the exact date varies in sources), where her father, Robert, was with the U.S. Foreign Service. She grew up in that country and elsewhere in Europe before settling in the U.S. in the late 1930s.

In the early 1950s, Murphy played roles on dramatic live television shows, such as "Robert Montgomery Presents," and began racking up credits on Broadway, where she appeared in several notable productions. One of her best known roles came in 1966 as Claire in Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance." Los Angeles Times television critic Cecil Smith, who admired her work on the small screen, said in 1972 of her work in that play, "Few performances in the modern theater were more compelling than her witty, brittle, booze-fighting Claire."

In the 1976 "Eleanor and Franklin," Murphy played Sara Roosevelt, the iron-willed, controlling mother of FDR.

Murphy worked through the 1990s on television, appearing in several TV movies and in "Frasier" and other series.

david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcolker

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