About Susan Antonia Williams Channing (Stockard)
Stockard Channing (born Susan Antonia Williams Stockard; February 13, 1944) is a two-time Emmy and one-time Tony Award winning American stage, film and television actress.
She is known for her portrayal of First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the NBC television series The West Wing; for playing Betty Rizzo in the film Grease; and for her role as Ouisa Kittredge in the play Six Degrees of Separation and its later film version.
Channing was born in New York City, the daughter of Mary Alice (née English), who came from a large Brooklyn-based Irish Catholic family, and Lester Napier Stockard (died 1960), who was in the shipping business. She grew up on the Upper East Side. She is an alumna of The Madeira School, a Virginia boarding school for girls, after starting out at The Chapin School in New York City. She studied history and literature at Radcliffe College and graduated in 1965.
Channing started her acting career with the experimental Theatre Company of Boston and eventually performed in the group's Off-Broadway 1969 production of the Elaine May play Adaptation/Next. She performed in a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace directed by Theodore Mann as part of the Circle in the Square at Ford's Theatre program in 1970. In 1971, she made her Broadway debut in Two Gentlemen of Verona — The Musical, working with playwright John Guare. She also appeared on Broadway in 1973 in a supporting role in No Hard Feelings at the Martin Beck Theatre.
Channing made her television debut on Sesame Street in the role of the The Number Painter's female victim. She landed her first lead role in the 1973 television movie The Girl Most Likely to..., a black comedy written by Joan Rivers about an ugly duckling woman whose car accident leads to plastic surgery; newly beautiful, she vows murderous revenge on all who had scorned her. For the role, Channing went through considerable transformation, with the syndicated column "TV Scout" reporting months later, "It was a great make-up job — at least the part that made very pretty Stockard look so ugly. She had her cheeks puffed out with cotton and her nose was wadded, too, to make it thick and off-center. Very thick eyebrows were drawn on her face and she wore padded clothes to make her look fat. Making her look beautiful was easy."
After a few small parts in feature films, Channing co-starred with Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson in Mike Nichols' The Fortune (1975). On May 22, 1977, Stockard along with Ned Beatty starred in the Pilot for the short lived TV series Lucan. Lucan, played by Kevin Brophy, was a 20-year old who spent the first 10 years of his life running wild in the forest after being raised by Wolves now strikes out on his own in search of his identity. In 1978, at the age of 33, she took on the role of high school teenager Betty Rizzo in the hit musical Grease. Her performance earned her the People's Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress. That year, she also played Peter Falk's secretary in the Neil Simon film The Cheap Detective.
Channing starred in two short-lived sitcoms on CBS in 1979 and 1980: Stockard Channing in Just Friends and The Stockard Channing Show. In both shows, she co-starred with actress Sydney Goldsmith, who played her best friend in both. Her Hollywood career faltered after these failures, so Channing returned to her theatre roots.
She played the female lead in the Broadway show, They're Playing Our Song (1980–81). Channing then took the part of the mother (Sheila) in the 1981 Long Wharf Theater (New Haven) production of Peter Nichols' A Day in the Death of Joe Egg. She reprised the role in the Roundabout Theater Company production, first Off-Broadway in January 1985 and then on Broadway in March 1985, and won the 1985 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play.
Channing continued her return to the stage by teaming up again with playwright John Guare. She received Tony Award nominations for her performances in his plays, The House of Blue Leaves (1986) and Six Degrees of Separation (1990), for which she also won an Obie. The Alan Ayckbourn play Woman in Mind received its American premiere Off-Broadway in February 1988 at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The production was directed by Lynne Meadow and the cast included Channing in the role of Susan, for which she won a Drama Desk Award for Best Actress.
Channing also garnered recognition for her work in television during this time. She was nominated for an Emmy for the CBS miniseries Echoes in the Darkness (1987) and won a CableACE Award for the Harvey Fierstein-scripted Tidy Endings (HBO, 1988). Channing also appeared in 1989's Staying Together.
Channing reprised her lead role as an Upper East Side matron in the film version of Six Degrees of Separation. She was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her performance. She then made several films in quick succession: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar as Carol Ann and Smoke (both 1995); a cameo appearance in The First Wives Club, Up Close and Personal (as Marcia Mcgrath), and Moll Flanders (all 1996). For Smoke she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress and for Moll Flanders she was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress, Drama.
Channing kept busy with film, television and stage roles throughout the late 1990s. She starred in the USA Network film An Unexpected Family in 1996 and in its sequel, An Unexpected Life, in 1998. She was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as Best Supporting Female for her performance as one-half of an infertile couple in The Baby Dance (also 1998). On stage, she performed at Lincoln Center in Tom Stoppard's Hapgood (1995) and in the 1997 revival of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. During this period, Channing voiced Barbara Gordon in the animated series, Batman Beyond, and in one episode of King of the Hill.
Channing was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress three times in the 1990s: in 1991, for Six Degrees of Separation; in 1992, for Four Baboons Adoring the Sun; and in 1999, for The Lion in Winter.
The West Wing and beyond
In 1999, Channing took on the role of First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the NBC television series The West Wing. She was a recurring guest star for the show's first two seasons; she became a regular cast member in 2001. In the seventh and final season of The West Wing (2005–2006), Channing appeared in only four episodes (including the series finale) because she was co-starring (with Henry Winkler) in the CBS sitcom Out of Practice at the same time. Out of Practice was cancelled by CBS after one season.
Channing received several awards in 2002. She won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work on The West Wing. That same year, she also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries for her portrayal of Judy Shepard in The Matthew Shepard Story, a docudrama about Matthew Shepard's life and murder.
Channing received the 2002 London Film Critics Circle Award (ALFS) for Best Actress of the Year for her role in the film The Business of Strangers. For The Business of Strangers she was also nominated for the American Film Institute Best Actress award. In 2003, she was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award.
In 2005, Channing won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special for Jack (2004), a Showtime television movie about a young man struggling to understand why his father left the family for another man. Channing played Jack's mother.
She was selected for the second narrator of the Animal Planet hit series Meerkat Manor in 2008, replacing Sean Astin, who did the first three seasons. In November 2008, she returned to Broadway as Vera Simpson in the musical Pal Joey, and was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
In 2005 Channing starred in Out of Practice with Henry Winkler, with the two receiving Emmy nominations for their roles. Channing played the role of Lydia Barnes, ex-wife of Stewart Barnes (Henry Winkler), and had two sons and a lesbian daughter (Christopher Gorham, Paula Marshall, Ty Burrel, Jennifer Tilly). The Barnes family were all physicians who had a hard time keeping their personal lives and relationships healthy. Stewart and Lydia traded barbs, playboy plastic surgeon Oliver can't get past the surface, ER doc Regina is a thrill junkie, and counselor Ben endures family contempt because he's not a "real" doctor. The show aired for one season (22 episodes).
She returned to the stage in June 2010, to Dublin's Gaiety Theatre to play Lady Bracknell in Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Channing appeared in the play Other Desert Cities Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center and then on Broadway, as of October 2011. Channing was nominated for the Drama Desk Award, Outstanding Actress in a Play and the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for Other Desert Cities.
Channing's latest film is A Fonder Heart (2011).
Channing has been married and divorced four times; she has no children. She married Walter Channing in 1963 and kept the amalgamated name "Stockard Channing" after they divorced in 1967. Her second husband was Paul Schmidt, a professor of Slavic languages (1970–76), and her third was writer-producer David Debin (1976–80). Her fourth husband was businessman David Rawle (1980–88). She has been in a relationship with cinematographer Daniel Gillham for more than 20 years; they met on the set of A Time of Destiny. The couple reside in Maine when not working. In 2005, Channing pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and received 36 months probation.
Awards and nominations