Actress worked steadily in movies and on stage, TV

Times Staff Writer

Lois Nettleton, an actress who went from Broadway plays to roles in movies and on popular television series, has died. She was 80.

Nettleton died Friday of complications from lung cancer at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, publicist Dale Olson said.

She made her Broadway debut in a 1949 production of “The Biggest Thief in Town,” a comedy by Dalton Trumbo.


She appeared in more than a dozen other plays, on and off Broadway, over the next decade. As Blanche DuBois in a 1973 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams, Nettleton avoided the typical portrayal of a faded beauty turned boozy manipulator.

“This is a Blanche . . . who has been to hell and back and yet retains her innocence,” wrote critic Clive Barnes in a review for the New York Times. “Miss Nettleton plays Blanche as a woman of nearly unshatterable courage.”

Nettleton said in interviews that theater was her first love, but she moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her ailing mother.

In Hollywood, starting in the 1950s, she was a guest actress on dozens of leading television series.

She had roles on “Kraft Television Theatre” and “Studio One” in the 1950s and appeared on “The Twilight Zone” in a 1961 episode titled “The Midnight Sun.” She played a woman coping with the radically shifting climate after the Earth falls out of orbit.

Nettleton also had roles on “Bonanza” and “The Fugitive” in the 1960s and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the ‘70s, among other series. For two years in the late 1980s, she was a regular on the police drama “In the Heat of the Night.” She also appeared on “The Golden Girls,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Cagney & Lacey.”

For three years in the 1990s, she had a role as Virginia Benson on the soap opera “General Hospital.”

She won Emmy Awards for daytime television for her role as suffragette Susan B. Anthony in “The American Woman: Portraits in Courage” in 1976 and her performance in an episode of the religious program “Insight” in 1983.

She made her movie debut in 1962 in “Period of Adjustment,” based on a play by Williams. She also had roles in “Mail Order Bride” in 1964, “The Man in the Glass Booth” in 1975 and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” in 1982.

“It takes courage to be . . . a gypsy actor like I am,” Nettleton told The Times in 1985, adding that she liked playing a variety of roles. “I’m a character actress. I always wanted to be as different in everything as possible,” she said.

Nettleton was born Aug. 16, 1927, in Oak Park, Ill. At 21, she was named Miss Chicago.

She studied acting at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and moved to New York City, where she joined the Actors Studio. She married Jean Shepherd, the writer, actor and radio personality, in 1960. Their marriage ended in divorce seven years later. She had no children and has no immediate survivors.

Instead of flowers, contributions in Nettleton’s name can be made to The Actors Fund, for Everyone in Entertainment, 729 Seventh Ave., 10th floor, New York, NY 10019.