Estelle Parsons

Estelle Margaret Parsons (born November 20, 1927) is an American actress, singer and stage director.[1]

Estelle Parsons
Parsons in a Love, American Style episode in 1973.
Estelle Margaret Parsons

(1927-11-20) November 20, 1927
OccupationActress, singer, stage director
Years active1956–present
Richard Gehman
(m. 1953; div. 1958)

Peter Zimroth
(m. 1983)

After studying law, Parsons became a singer before deciding to pursue a career in acting. She worked for the television program Today and made her stage debut in 1961. During the 1960s, Parsons established her career on Broadway before progressing to film. She received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and was also nominated for her work in Rachel, Rachel (1968).

She worked extensively in film and theatre during the 1970s and later directed several Broadway productions. More recently her television work included her most well-known role, playing Beverly Harris, mother of the eponymous title character, on the sitcom Roseanne, and its spinoff The Conners. She has been nominated five times for the Tony Award (four times for Lead Actress of a Play and once for Featured Actress). In 2004, Parsons was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Early life

Parsons was born in Lynn Hospital, Lynn, Massachusetts. Her mother, Elinor Ingeborg (née Mattsson), was a native of Sweden, and her father, Eben Parsons, was of English descent.[2][3][4]

She attended Oak Grove School for Girls in Maine. After graduating from Connecticut College in 1949, Parsons initially studied law at Boston University, and then worked as a singer with a band before settling on an acting career in the early 1950s.[5] In 1983, when co-starring with fellow Academy Award-winning actor Jack Lemmon in a new Ernest Thompson stage play in Los Angeles, Parsons appeared on the November 1 episode of The Tonight Show, telling Johnny Carson that Lemmon had been her first boyfriend, when they were both teenagers in the 1940s.[6]


Moving to New York City, Parsons worked as a writer, producer and commentator for The Today Show. She made her Broadway debut in 1956 in the ensemble of the Ethel Merman musical Happy Hunting. She began performing Off-Broadway in 1961, and received a Theatre World Award in 1963 for her performance in Whisper into My Good Ear/Mrs. Dally Has a Lover (1962).

In 1964, Parsons won an Obie Award for Best Actress for her performance in two Off-Broadway plays, Next Time I'll Sing to You and In the Summer House. In 1967, she starred with Stacy Keach in the premiere of Joseph Heller's play We Bombed in New Haven at the Yale Repertory Theater.[7]

Parsons has received Tony Award nominations for her work in The Seven Descents of Myrtle (1968), And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little (1971), Miss Margarida's Way (1978), Morning's at Seven (2002), and The Velocity of Autumn (2014). She played Leokadia Begbick in the American premiere of the WeillBrecht opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1970), and performed as Mrs. Peachum to Lotte Lenya's Jenny in Threepenny Opera on tour and in New York City. In 1978 she played Lady MacBeth in the Kauai Community Players production. She also played Ruth in Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance on Broadway in 1981. From June 17, 2008 through May 17, 2009, she played the role of Violet Weston in August: Osage County. She continued playing the role during the show's national tour beginning July 24, 2009, in Denver.

As a director, Parsons has a number of Broadway credits, including a production of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and As You Like It in 1986. Off-Broadway, she directed Dario Fo's Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo (1983). She served as the Artistic Director of the Actors Studio for five years, ending in 2003.

In 2016, she starred in Israel Horovitz's new play Out Of The Mouths Of Babes along with Judith Ivey directed by Barnet Kellman at The Cherry Lane Theater in New York City.[8]

In 2004, Parsons was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.[9]

Her film career includes an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Blanche Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and a nomination for Rachel, Rachel (1968). She received a BAFTA Award nomination for her role in Watermelon Man (1970), and appeared in I Never Sang for My Father (1970), Two People (1973), A Memory of Two Mondays (1974), For Pete's Sake (1974), Dick Tracy (1990) and Boys on the Side (1995).

On television, Parsons played the recurring role of Beverly Harris, the mother of the title character on Roseanne; her Beverly character is the daughter of character Nana Mary, played by fellow Academy Award winner Shelley Winters. Other television credits include appearances in The Patty Duke Show, Love, American Style, All In The Family, Archie Bunker's Place, Open Admissions, Frasier, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and The Good Wife, as well as The UFO Incident: The Story of Betty and Barney Hill and the PBS production of June Moon. She played the part of Babe in two episodes of the second season of Grace and Frankie.

She was honored with a Woman of Achievement Award from the Women's Project Theater in 2009.[10] In 2010, she appeared in London, playing psychic Helga ten Dorp in Deathtrap at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End.[11]

She was recently seen on Broadway in Good People and Nice Work If You Can Get It.[12]

In April 2018, Parsons returned to television reprising her role as Beverly Harris, mother of Roseanne Barr's title character, in season 10, episode 5 of Roseanne.[13]

Personal life

Parsons married author Richard Gehman in 1953. They had twin daughters, reporter Abbie and actress Martha Gehman (born 1955), before divorcing in 1958.[6] Her grandson, Abbie's son, is former Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars guard/tackle, Eben Britton, named for his great-grandfather, Estelle's father.[14] In January 1983 she married her partner of 10 years, Peter Zimroth, who has served as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Assistant District Attorney and court-appointed monitor of the NYPD's policies and practices regarding stop-and-frisk.[15] Their marriage honoured the pending adoption of their child, son Abraham (born February 1983).[6]



Year Title Role Notes
1963Ladybug LadybugJoAnn's Mother
1967Bonnie and ClydeBlancheAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actress [16]
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance (2nd place)
1968Rachel, RachelCalla MackieLaurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance
Nominated Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress[16]
1969Don't Drink the WaterMarion Hollander
1970Watermelon ManAlthea GerberNominated BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1970I Walk the LineEllen Haney
1970I Never Sang for My FatherAlice
1973Two PeopleBarbara Newman
1974For Pete's SakeHelen Robbins
1975Fore Play1st Lady / Barmaid
1989The Lemon SistersMrs. Kupchak
1990The Blue MenMay
1990Dick TracyMrs. Trueheart
1995Boys on the SideLouise
1996Looking for RichardMargaret
1997That Darn CatOld Lady McCracken


Year Title Role Notes
1954TodaySelfEpisode dated 6 September 1954
1963The DefendersMrs. Martin"Metamorphosis"
1964The DuPont Show of the WeekCarrie Bernice"The Gambling Heart"
The Patty Duke ShowMrs. Appleton"The Con Artist"
1965The Doctors and the NursesMrs. Meyers"Where There's Smoke"
1966The Trials of O'BrienMiss Baines"Alarums and Excursions"
1968Snap JudgmentSelfEpisode dated 18 November 1968
Hemingway's Spain: A Love AffairSelf (voice only)
Kraft Music HallSelfEpisode #11.30
The 40th Annual Academy AwardsSelfOscar winner
1970The Front PageMollie Malloy
The David Frost ShowSelfEpisode #2.240
197125th Tony AwardsSelfNominee
Great PerformancesAgnesA Memory of Two Mondays
1972Love, American StyleBernice"Love and the Clinic/Love and the Perfect Wedding/Love and the President/Love and the Return of Raymond"
Medical CenterBev"Wall of Silence"
1973Terror on the BeachArlene Glynn
1974The Gun and the PulpitSadie Underwood
Great PerformancesLucille"June Moon"
1975The UFO IncidentBetty Hill
1976The Tenth LevelCrossland
NBC Special TreatEdwina Kemp"Big Henry and the Polka Dot Kid"
All in the FamilyDolores Mancheney Fencel"Archie's Secret Passion"
1978All in the FamilyBlanche Hefner2 episodes
1979Archie Bunker's PlaceBlanche Hefner"Blanche and Murray"
Backstairs at the White HouseBess TrumanFour episodes
1981The Gentleman BanditMarjorie Seebode
Guests of the NationKate O'Connell
1982TodaySelfEpisode dated 14 January 1982
American PlayhouseMabel Lederer/Angela Motorman"Come Along with Me"
1987American Playhouse"Waiting for the Moon" (the producers wish to thank)
1988Open AdmissionsClare Block
1989–1997, 2018RoseanneBeverly Harris61 episodes
Nominated for TV Land Award
1990Everyday HeroesMatty Jennings
1992A Private MatterMary ChessenNominated—CableACE Award Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries
1993The American ClockOlder Doris
Family FeudSelf"Roseanne vs. Jackie Thomas Sitcoms"
1994Inside the Actors StudioSelf
1997Touched by an AngelJeannette Fisher"Sandcastles"
1998The Love LetterBeatrice Corrigan
The 70th Annual Academy AwardsSelf
1999Freak CityMrs. Stanapolous
2000BackstorySelf"Bonnie and Clyde"
2001100 Center StreetEsther O'Neill"The Fix"
2002Law & Order: Special Victims UnitRose Rinato"Denial"
The 56th Annual Tony AwardsSelf
2004FrasierCeleste's Mother (voice)
Herself (photograph)
"Coots and Ladders"
"Goodnight, Seattle"
Strip SearchRoberta Gray
Happy Birthday Oscar WildeSelf
2005Empire FallsBea2 episodes
2013The Good WifeNana JoeEpisode: "What's in the Box?"
2016–2019Grace and FrankieBabe3 episodes
2018–presentThe ConnersBeverly Harris4 episodes


  1. Profile,; accessed November 18, 2016.
  2. "The Passion of Estelle Parsons" Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine,; accessed 3 May 2014.
  3. Estelle Parsons profile,; accessed May 3, 2014.
  4. Estelle Parsons profile, Yahoo! Movies; accessed May 3, 2014.
  5. Buckley, Michael (July 27, 2008). "STAGE TO SCREENS: Chats with Estelle Parsons, Mary McCormack and Bryan Batt". Playbill. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  6. Kahn, Toby (September 26, 1983). "Actress Estelle Parsons Tackles Her Toughest Role: At 55, She's a Mom Again". People. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  7. "We Bombed in New Haven". Original Yale Repertory Program. December 4–23, 1967. Archived from the original on February 26, 2017. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  8. "Cherry Lane Theatre". Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  9. "Hall of Fame honors hoofer" Variety, October 24, 2004.
  10. "Women of Achievement Honorees | Women's Project Theater". Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  11. "Deathtrap, With Jonathan Groff, Simon Russell Beale, Estelle Parsons, Opens in London". Playbill. Retrieved October 8, 2016.
  12. Profile,; accessed October 16, 2014.
  13. Vick, Megan (April 13, 2018). "Roseanne Exclusive: Bev Is Back!". Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  14. "Player Bio - Eben Britton". Archived from the original on March 31, 2016. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  15. "About Us". NYPD Monitor. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  16. "Oscar-Estelle Parsons". Academy Awards. Archived from the original on April 15, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
Preceded by
Arthur Penn
Artistic Director of the Actors Studio
Succeeded by
Vacant (2003–2004)
Stephen Lang
Carlin Glynn
Lee Grant
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