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 create the role of the meddlesome mother of regulars Sally Field and Ron Rivkin and grandmother of Calista Flockhart. The show follows a recurring role as the mother of Drew Carey on the ABC primetime hit show and the matriarch on “Gilmore Girls.”
It’s the latest television link in a motherly chain that winds back to her 11-year portrayal of ‘Mrs. Cunningham’ on the now-classic “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, Marion starred in three of them. Included were her roles in “Happy Days,” “Brooklyn Bridge” and “The Love Boat” series.
Ross also 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 “Terms of Endearment,” was praised by critics and earned multiple awards, including a Golden Globe nomination, Texas Film Critics Award and international critical acclaim. 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.
For Ross’ performance in “Brooklyn Bridge,” Viewers For Quality Television named her twice as Best Actress in a Television Comedy Series, while the Television Academy also nominated her twice for an Emmy® in that category.
During the hiatus between seasons, Ross plunged headlong into two stage projects. She won critical raves for her astonishing portrayal of ‘Amanda’ in Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie at the La Jolla Playhouse. 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 has written a new play, The Last Romance, especially for them. 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 “Love Boat” and then left television to star on Broadway and the national tour with Jean Stapleton in Arsenic and Old Lace and a national tour of Steel Magnolias with Barbara Rush. 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 daily talk show, “Alive and Well,” which aired nationally on USA Cable, as well as on Metromedia syndication. Then, she surprisingly popped up doing a hilarious Allistair Cooke take-off on Martin Mull’s HBO special, “The History of White People in America.” 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 NBC’s “Sister Kate,” then taking over for Michael Learned as the star of ABC’s “Living Dolls” on that show’s final two episodes.
Ross hails from the small town of Albert Lea in Minnesota. Today 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” and “The Proud and the Profane.” Later, she played in “The Glenn Miller Story” and “The Forbin Project” for Universal, as well as “Operation Petticoat,” again 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 CBS’ “Life With Father,” which had the additional distinction of being the first live series to be aired in color and ran for three years.
Among numerous additional television roles, Ross has appeared in the NBC movie “Skyward,” ABC’s “The Burning,” a CBS movie “Survival of Dana,” an ABC after-school special, “Which Mother Is Mine,” the NBC 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 Paul Michael also starred together in the well-received “Where There’s A Will” for the Hallmark Channel.
Divorced, Ross lives in the San Fernando Valley with her longtime companion Paul Michael. She has nick-named her estate “Happy Days Farm” and an adjacent garden acreage “Sophie Park,” named after the matriarch she played in “Brooklyn Bridge.” She has two children, actor Jim Meskimen and producer/writer Ellen Plummer.