Perhaps the most well known TV matriarch, actress Marion Ross has added another head of the family to her stockpile. Looking for a new twist in the continuing saga of the hit series "Brothers and Sisters," Ross was brought in to fill the role of the meddlesome mother of Sally Field and Ron Rifkin and grandmother of Calista Flockhart. The show followed recurring roles as the matriarch on "The Drew Carey Show" and "Gilmore Girls." It‘s the latest television link in a motherly chain that winds back to her 11-year portrayal of Mrs. Cunningham on "Happy Days," and as the head of a Jewish immigrant family from Poland on the critically acclaimed series "Brooklyn Bridge."
When TV Guide published a list of the 100 Top Television Episodes of All Time, compiled by the magazine‘s staff, Ross starred in three of them. Included were her roles in "Happy Days," "Brooklyn Bridge" and "The Love Boat."
Ross starred in the Emmy-nominated role of Mrs. Diamant, the head of a Jewish family pursued by the Nazis, in Lifetime‘s "Hidden in Silence." Simultaneously, her performance in "Evening Star," the sequel to the Academy Award winning "Terms of Endearment," was praised by critics and earned multiple awards, including a Golden Globe nomination. She co-starred in the Paramount Pictures release as Shirley MacLaine‘s best friend in the long-awaited film version of Larry McMurtry‘s best-selling novel.
On stage, Ross won critical raves for her portrayal of Amanda in Tennessee Williams‘ "The Glass Menagerie." She then agreed to headline the National Womens‘ theater project at UCLA with her critically-hailed one woman show, "A Lovely Light." Ross has also starred in such plays as "Pippin" and "Over the River and Through the Woods," in which she co-starred with her longtime companion, Broadway actor Paul Michael. So impressed with their performances was playwright Joe DiPietro that he wrote The Last Romance especially for them. The pair opened the new Globe Theatre Circle in the Round theatre in San Diego with the show, which was extended by popular demand. Ross and Michael also tour the country in the sold-out production of "Love Letters," repeating the show frequently on international cruise ships.
After "Happy Days," Ross played Gavin MacLeod‘s love interest in "The Love Boat," and then left television to star on Broadway and the national tour with Jean Stapleton in "Arsenic and Old Lace," along with a national tour of "Steel Magnolias." In 1990, she won rave reviews for her starring role in Lee Blessing‘s "Independence" with the Burbank Theatre Guild and then again as the drug-addicted mother in Eugene O‘Neill‘s classic play, "A Long Day‘s Journey Into Night," with the famed Seattle Repertory Company.
Comfortable in every performance situation, Ross has hosted a talk show, "Alive and Well," which aired nationally on USA and in syndication. Among her favorite off-beat roles were the seedy bag lady of "Glitter," a crazy woman threatening to blow up "Night Court," a flamboyantly phony medium on "Brothers" and a surprise guest as Mrs. C on a segment of the new "Leave It To Beaver." She has turned up as a speechless nun on "Sister Kate," then took over for Michael Learned as the star of "Living Dolls" on that show‘s final two episodes.
Ross hails from the small Minnesota town of Albert Lea. Now considered the star of Albert Lea, in 2006 she presented the town with a vintage truck from her own "Happy Days" farm outside Los Angeles, and it is now a leading exhibit in the Albert Lea Museum. But Albert Lea is not the only city in America to claim the popular actress. When Marion, Illinois decided to update its national profile, it was Ross they chose, inviting her to headline annual city celebrations and act as the honorary =Marion‘ of the city‘s name.
Launching her film career with a role in "Forever Female," Ross soon followed with "Teacher‘s Pet," "Legend of the Incas," "Sabrina" (1954) and "The Proud and the Profane." Later, she played in "The Glenn Miller Story" and "The Forbin Project," as well as "Operation Petticoat," with Gavin MacLeod, with whom she had previously appeared in a romantic teaming for "The Walter Winchell Film." Another major break came when she won a co-starring role in "Life With Father," which had the distinction of being the first live series to be aired in color.
Among numerous additional television roles, Ross has appeared in the TV movies "Skyward," "Survival of Dana," and "Which Mother Is Mine," the mini-series, "Pearl" and several episodes of "Love Boat" and "Hotel." She played Jack Klugman‘s love interest in "You Again" and then starred in an Alfred Hitchcock TV drama, "Initiation." Ross and Michael also starred together in the well-received "Where There‘s A Will" for Hallmark Channel.
Ross currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with Michael. She has named her estate "Happy Days Farm" and an adjacent garden acreage "Sophie Park," named for her role in "Brooklyn Bridge." She has two children, actor Jim Meskimen and producer/writer Ellen Plummer. Among many honors, she has been inducted in the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been named the best actress in television for two years in a row by Viewers for Quality Television.