The Washington Post

Rosemary Murphy, Emmy-winning actress, dies at 89

Rosemary Murphy, an actress best remembered for a sympathetic role in the 1962 movie “To Kill a Mockingbird” and for her Emmy-winning performance as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s iron-willed mother in the television drama “Eleanor and Franklin,” died July 5 at her home in New York. She was 89.

She had been diagnosed in June with esophageal cancer, said her agent, Jonathan Mason.

In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” based on the Harper Lee novel, Ms. Murphy played Miss Maudie Atkinson, who lives next door to the widower lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck. Finch 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 Ms. Murphy was born in Munich (the exact date varies in sources), where her father, Robert, was with the U.S. Foreign Service and eventually became undersecretary of state.

Rosemary Murphy, an actress who appeared in the 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird,” shown in 1959. (Arthur Ellis/The Washington Post)

She grew up in Germany and elsewhere in Europe before settling in the United States in the late 1930s. While in the Washington area, she studied drama at Catholic University and performed at what is now the Olney Theatre Center.

In the early 1950s, Ms. 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 TV movie “Eleanor and Franklin,” Ms. Murphy played Sara Roosevelt, the controlling mother of FDR.

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

Survivors include a sister, the New York Times reported.

— Los Angeles Times


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