Shirley Knight

Shirley Knight Hopkins (born July 5, 1936) is an American actress who has appeared in more than 50 feature films, made-for-television movies, television series, and Broadway and Off-Broadway productions in her career playing leading and character roles. She is a member of the Actors Studio.

Shirley Knight
Shirley Knight in 1963
Born (1936-07-05) July 5, 1936
Other namesShirley Knight Hopkins
Alma materWichita State University
Years active1959–present
Spouse(s)Gene Persson (m. 1959, div. 69)[1]
John Hopkins (m. 1969, d. 1998)
Children2, including Kaitlin Hopkins

Knight has been nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962).[2] In the 1960s, she had leading roles in a number of Hollywood movies such as The Couch (1962), House of Women (1962), The Group (1966), The Counterfeit Killer (1968), and The Rain People (1969). She received the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for her role in the British film Dutchman (1966).

In 1976 Knight won a Tony Award for her performance in Kennedy's Children. In later years, she played supporting roles in many films, include Endless Love (1981), As Good as It Gets (1997), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002), and Grandma's Boy (2006). For her performances on television, Knight eight times was nominated for Primetime Emmy Award (winning three), and has also received a Golden Globe Award.

Early life

Knight was born in Goessel in Marion County, east central Kansas, the daughter of Virginia (née Webster) and Noel Johnson Knight, an oil company executive.[3] She spent her young life in Mitchell, Kansas and later lived in Lyons, Kansas where she graduated from high school. She began studying to be an opera singer at age eleven.

At the age of 14, she wrote a short story which was published in a national magazine. Knight later attended Phillips University and Wichita State University. After studying at the Pasadena Theatre School she began her film career in 1959. She then went to New York and began her theatre career. She trained in acting with Jeff Corey, Erwin Piscator, Lee Strasberg, and Uta Hagen at HB Studio.[4][5][6]


Knight's feature films include The Group (1966), The Dutchman (1966), Petulia (1968), The Rain People (1969), Juggernaut (1974), As Good as It Gets (1997), and Elevator (2011), in which she plays one of several people trapped in a Wall Street elevator with a bomber.

Knight was cast in 1958 and 1959 as Mrs. Newcomb in twenty of the thirty-nine episodes of the NBC western television series, Buckskin, with Tom Nolan, Sally Brophy, and Mike Road. She became a Warner Brothers Television contract star who while on breaks filming movies appeared in such WB television series as Maverick, Bourbon Street Beat, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, and The Roaring 20s.[7]

A life member of The Actors Studio,[8] Knight's stage credits include Three Sisters (1964), We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1966), Kennedy's Children (1975), which earned her the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play,[9] and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur (1979).

She was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play twice, for Landscape of the Body and The Young Man from Atlanta, for which she received another Tony nomination.[9] She also appeared, with Alison Fraser, in Come Back, Come Back, Wherever You Are, (2009) an original play by playwright Arthur Laurents.

Her television credits include Target: The Corruptors!, The Eleventh Hour, The Outer Limits ("The Man Who Was Never Born"), The Reporter, The Fugitive, The Invaders, The Virginian, Murder, She Wrote, Thirtysomething, Law & Order, L.A. Law, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Maggie Winters, ER, House M.D., Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, and Hot in Cleveland, among others.

She has appeared in various television movies, including Playing For Time and Indictment: The McMartin Trial. For the latter, she won both the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie and the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television. Her guest performance in thirtysomething earned her a 1988 Emmy for Best Guest Performer in a Drama Series. She won Emmy in 1995 for her guest performance in the NYPD Blue episode "Large Mouth Bass".[10]

She appeared in the first segment of If These Walls Could Talk. She also had a recurring role on Desperate Housewives.[11]

Personal life

Knight was married to American actor and producer Gene Persson from 1959 until their divorce in 1969. They had one child, actress Kaitlin Hopkins (born Feb 1, 1964).

Her second marriage was to English writer John Hopkins from 1969 until his death in 1998. She and Hopkins raised her daughter with Persson together. They had one child, elementary school teacher Sophie C. Hopkins.[12]



Year Title Role Notes
1959 Five Gates to Hell Sister Maria
1960 Ice Palace Grace Kennedy
1960 The Dark at the Top of the Stairs Reenie Flood Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
1962 The Couch Terry Ames
1962 Sweet Bird of Youth Heavenly Finley Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1962 House of Women Erica Hayden
1964 Flight from Ashiya Caroline Gordon/Stevenson
1966 The Group Polly
1967 Dutchman Lula Volpi Cup for Best Actress
1967 The Outsider Peggy Leydon
1968 Shadow Over Elveron Joanne Tregaskis
1968 The Counterfeit Killer Angie Peterson
1968 Petulia Polo Laurel Award for Best Female Supporting Performance
1969 The Rain People Natalie Ravenna
1971 Secrets Beatrice
1974 The Country Girl Georgie Elgin
1974 Juggernaut Barbara Bannister
1975 Friendly Persuasion Eliza Birdwell
1975 Medical Story Phyllis Lenahan Television series (guest star)
1976 Return to Earth Joan Aldrin
1976 21 Hours at Munich Anneliese Graes
1978 The Defection of Simas Kudirka Genna Kudirka
1979 A Last Cry for Help Joan Muir Television film
1979 Champions: A Love Story Barbara Harlich
1979 Beyond the Poseidon Adventure Hannah Meredith
1980 Playing for Time Frau Lagerfuhrerin Maria Mandel Television film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1981 Prisoners Virginia
1981 Endless Love Ann Butterfield Nominated—Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1982 Kennedy's Children Carla
1982 The Sender Jerolyn
1984 With Intent to Kill Edna Reinecker
1991 Bump in the Night Katie
1991 Shadow of a Doubt Mrs. Potter
1991 To Save a Child Rinda Larson
1993 When Love Kills: The Seduction of John Hearn Edna Larson
1993 Angel Falls Edie Wren Cox Television series
1993 A Mother's Revenge Bess Warden
1994 The Secret Life of Houses Aunt Fergie
1994 Benders Donna
1994 Baby Brokers Sylvia Television film
1994 Color of Night Edith Niedelmeyer
1995 Children of the Dust Aunt Bertha Television film
1995 Stuart Saves His Family Mrs. Smalley
1995 Indictment: The McMartin Trial Peggy Buckey Television film
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
1996 Stolen Memories: Secrets from the Rose Garden Sally Ann
1996 Diabolique Edie Danziger
1996 If These Walls Could Talk Mary Donnelly
1996 Somebody Is Waiting Irma Cill
1997 As Good as It Gets Beverly Connelly Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1997 Little Boy Blue Doris Knight
1998 The Wedding Gram Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1998 A Father for Brittany Donna Minkowitz
2000 75 Degrees in July Jo Beth Anderson
2001 My Louisiana Sky Jewel Ramsey
2001 Angel Eyes Elanora Davis
2002 The Salton Sea Nancy Plummer
2002 P.S. Your Cat Is Dead Aunt Claire
2002 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood Necie Rose Kelleher
2003 A House on a Hill Mercedes Mayfield
2005 Sexual Life Joanna
2006 Grandma's Boy Bea
2006 Open Window Ann
2006 Thanks to Gravity Lea
2008 The Other Side of the Tracks Helen
2008 Not Fade Away Diane
2009 Paul Blart: Mall Cop Margaret Blart
2009 The Private Lives of Pippa Lee Dot Nadeau
2010 Listen to Your Heart Grandma Sam
2011 Elevator Jane Redding
2011 Our Idiot Brother Ilene Rochlin
2011 The Melancholy Fantastic Mor
2013 Redwood Highway Marie Vaughn
2014 Mercy Mercy Mercy as her older self, not in flashback
2015 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Margaret Blart
2015 The Missing Girl Mrs. Colvins


Year Title Role Notes
1958–1959 Buckskin Mrs. Newcomb 20 episodes
1960 77 Sunset Strip Mari Ellen Taylor Episode: "Fraternity of Fear"
1961 Maverick Nancy Powers Episode: "The Ice Man"
1961 The Roaring 20s Ellie Hollis Episode: "Big Town Blues"
1962 Naked City Kathy Meigs Episode: "Five Cranks for Winter... Ten Cranks for Spring"
1963 The Outer Limits Noel Anderson Episode: "The Man Who Was Never Born"
1964 The Fugitive Janice Pruitt Episode: "The Homecoming"
1965 The Fugitive Mona Ross Episode: "A.P.B."
1966 The Fugitive Jane Washburn Episode: "Echo of a Nightmare"
1967 The Invaders Margaret Cook Episode "The Watchers"
1973 The Streets of San Francisco Mary Rae Dortmunter Episode: "A Room With a View"
1973 Circle of Fear Beth Episode: "Legion of Demons"
1973 Orson Welles Great Mysteries Margot Brenner Episode: "The Power of Fear"
1974 Nakia Faye Arnold Episode: "Pete"
1982 Nurse Sylvia Dennis Episode: "Euthanasia"
1982 Tales of the Unexpected (TV series) Elizabeth Bourdon Episode: "A Woman's Help"
1984 Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense Ann Fairfax Denver Episode: "The Sweet Scent of Death"
1985–1987 Spenser: For Hire Katie Quirk 2 episodes
1987–1990 Thirtysomething Ruth Murdoch 2 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1989 Murder, She Wrote Grace Fenton Episode: "Smooth Operators"
1989 The Equalizer Kay Episode: "Time Present, Time Past"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1990 Matlock Phyllis Todd Episode: "The Mother"
1990 Murder, She Wrote Grace Lambert Episode: "Always a Thief"
1991 Law & Order Melanie Cullen Episode: "The Wages of Love"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
1993 L.A. Law Belinda Collins Episode: "Hello and Goodbye"
1995 Fudge Mrs. A Episode: "Fudge-a-mania"
1995 NYPD Blue Agnes Cantwell Episode: "Large Mouth Bass"
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1996 Cybill Loretta Episode: "Romancing the Crone"
1998–1999 Maggie Winters Estelle Winters 16 episodes
1998 Significant Others Mrs. Callaway 2 episodes
2001 Law and Order: Special Victims Unit Dr. Wharton Episode: "Repression"
2002 Ally McBeal Helen Apple Episode: "Homecoming"
2002 ER Mrs. Burke Episode: "Insurrection"
2003 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Rose Granville Episode: '"Tragedy"
2004 Crossing Jordan Frances Littleton Episode: "Most Likely"
2005 House Georgia Adams Episode: "Poison"
2005–2007 Desperate Housewives Phyllis Van De Kamp 5 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2009 Drop Dead Diva Millie Carlson Episode: "Dead Model Walking"
2010 Hot in Cleveland Loretta Episode: "Meet the Parents"
2012 The Mob Doctor Ann Wilson Episode: "Turf War"


  1. Staff, Variety (June 20, 2008). "Gene Persson dies at 74". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  2. "("Shirley Knight" search results)". Academy Awards Database. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  3. "Shirley Knight Biography". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  4. HB Studio Alumni
  5. "Shirley Knight biography and filmography - Shirley Knight movies". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  6. "Shirley Knight's Biography". Retrieved 2019-09-30.
  7. "An Interview With Shirley Knight". July 1, 2010. Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  8. Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  9. "("Shirley Knight" search results)". Tony Awards. Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  10. "Shirley Knight - Television Academy". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  11. "Shirley Knight Plays a Desperate Former Housewife in Cycling Past the Matterhorn, Opening Sept. 29 - Playbill". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
  12. "ACTORS' DIALOGUE: Shirley Knight & Kaitlin Hopkins". Retrieved June 4, 2016.
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