Making her Broadway debut in the landmark stage musical “Gypsy” (1959), Baltimore native Anita Gillette picked up a L.A. Drama Critics Award and a Tony nomination after playing Jennie in Neil Simon's “Chapter Two” (1977). Other Broadway credits include roles in “Mr. President” (1962), “Guys and Dolls” (1965), “Don't Drink the Water” (1966), “They're Playing Our Song” (1979) and “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1984). Following her success in musical theater, the Strasberg trained performer turned her attention to television and has played roles in the comedy series “Me and the Chimp” (1972), “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1973), “The Baxters” (1979-1980), “Normal, Ohio” (2000), “Quincy, M.E.” (1982-1983) and “Almost Grown” (1988). She has also appeared in recurring roles in the series “The War at Home” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (both 2005 to 2007) and appeared in a number of TV films and guest starred in hit TV series such as “Law & Order,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Frasier,” “Sex and the City,” “30 Rock” and “Cold Case.” On the big screen, Gillette is probably best remembered as Mona in Norman Jewison's “Moonstruck” (1987), her first feature film. Frequently cast as mothers, she played Jack Black's mother in “Bob Roberts” (1992), Mary Louise Parker's mom in “Boys On The Side” (1995), Jennifer Aniston's mother in “She's The One” (1996), and Bill Murray's mother in “Larger Than Life” (1996), to name a few. More recent film credits include “Shall We Dance” (2004), “The Last Adam” (2006) and “Hiding Victoria” (2006).
Childhood and Family:
Anita Luebben, who would later be popular as Anita Gillette, was born on August 16, 1936, in Baltimore, Maryland, to John Alfred Luebben and Juanita Luebben. She attended the Peabody Conservatory and studied acting at New York's Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg.
Anita is divorced. She has two sons, Christopher John and Timothy Ronald.
Anita Gillette made her professional stage debut in a summer stock production of “Roberta” (1958) at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts. She subsequently branched out to Broadway with the role of Thelma in “Gypsy” (1959), which was based on the 1957 memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. In the original Broadway production, the show, which was produced by David Merrick and starred Ethel Merman, Jack Klugman, Maria Karnilova, and Sandra Church, collected eight Tony nominations, including one for Best Musical, Best Costume Design, and Best Direction of a Musical.
Throughout the 1960s, Gillette worked tirelessly on stage in the United States and Canada. She performed in Broadway productions such as “Carnival,” (1961, starred Anna Maria Alberghetti and James Mitchell), “All American” (1962, with Ron Husmann, Fritz Weaver, and Eileen Herlie), “Mr. President” (1962, as Leslie Henderson, opposite Robert Ryan, Nanette Fabray and Baayork Lee), “Kelly” (1965), “Guys and Dolls” (1965, starred as Sarah Brown, opposite Alan King and Jerry Orbach), the Woody Allen written “Don't Drink the Water” (1966, originated the role of Susan Hollander), “Cabaret” (1966, as Sally Bowles) and “Jimmy” (1969, opposite Frank Gorshin). Gillette made her London stage debut in “Pocahontas” in 1963 and toured the U.S. in a production of “My Fair Lady” in 1966.
Lured by her success on stage, Gillette began appearing in TV variety shows, including “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “Girl Talk” and “Garry Moore Show,” and TV game shows such as “What's My Line,” “Match Game 73” (1973-1974), “Password Plus” (1980) and “The $10,000 Pyramid” (1973-1986). She could also be seen making a guest appearance in the long running adventure series “Route 66” (1961), playing Franki in the Emmy Award winning drama series “The Edge of Night” during the 1967-1968 season, and being cast in the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” production of “Pinocchio” (1968).
Gillette made her TV movie debut in the Emmy nominated “George M!” (1970), adapted from the 1968 Broadway musical of the same name that starred Joel Grey as George M. Cohan. In the movie, she was cast as Ethel Levy Cohan, opposite Jack Cassidy, Nanette Fabray, and Blythe Danner. Two years later, she landed her first regular role in a primetime series in the CBS comedy “Me and the Chimp,” but the show was considered a flop. The hardworking performer returned with work in the short lived ABC sitcoms “Honeymoon Suite” (also 1972) and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1973), a remake of Paul Mazursky's 1969 hit movie of the same name. Cast as Alice Henderson in the latter series, she shared the small screen with costars Robert Urich, Anne Archer and David Spielberg. Gillette was next seen portraying Helen Baker in the made for TV film “A Matter of Wife... and Death” (1976, directed by Marvin J. Chomsky), Peggy Kenter in the TV film “It Happened at Lakewood Manor” (1977), and Nancy Langston in the sitcom “All That Glitters” (1977). She also appeared as Teresa Duvall in an episode of “Trapper John, M.D.” In 1979, she began the regular role of Nancy Baxter in the syndicated experimental series “The Baxters,” a role she played until 1980.
Gillette made her triumphant return to Broadway in 1977 in Neil Simon's semi autobiographical “Chapter Two.” Directed by Herbert Ross, the comedy was nominated for the 1978 Tony Award for Best Play, and Gillette, who was cast as Jennie, received a Tony nomination for Best Actress (Play) and a L.A Drama Critics Award for her acting job. She then appeared in the 1979 Broadway production of “They're Playing Our Song.” She did not appear in another Broadway production until 1984's “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” the first chapter of Neil Simon's “Eugene Trilogy.”
Following a performance as Bob Newhart's wife in the comedy TV film “Marathon” (1980), Gillette joined the cast of the daytime soap “Another World” in the role of Loretta Shea in 1982 and portrayed the wife of Jack Klugman, Dr. Emily Hanover, in the eighth and final season of NBC’s drama “Quincy, M.E.” (1982-1983). Before playing Emily, Gillette appeared as Helen Quincy in a 1979 episode of “Quincy, M.E.” called “Promises to Keep.” Subsequent TV credits included roles in the soap opera “Search for Tomorrow” (1986), the short lived drama “Almost Grown” (1988, as the mother of Eve Gordon) and guest roles in “St. Elsewhere” (1986), “You Again” (1986) and “Brothers” (1986).
Anita eventually appeared on the big screen in Norman Jewison's acclaimed drama “Moonstruck” (1987), which won Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Cher) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Olympia Dukakis). In the movie, she played Mona, the mistress of Vincent Gardenia. It was followed by roles in the Danny Irom independent film “Bum Rap” (1988), Thomas F. Mazziotti's “Undertow” (1991, opposite Peter Dobson) and Tim Robbins' “Bob Roberts” (1992, as the mother of Jack Black). Gillette resurfaced almost three years later in the Herbert Ross directed “Boys on the Side” (1995), in which she was cast as Mary-Louise Parker's mom. The cast of the film also included Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, Matthew McConaughey and James Remar. She also received roles in Howard Franklin's “Larger Than Life,” Edward Burns' “She's the One” (both 1996), the short “Karen Black Like Me” (1997) and the independent comedy “Charlie Hoboken” (1998). On television, Gillette appeared in guest roles in “Mad About You” (1994), “Law & Order” (1996) and “ABC Afterschool Specials” (1996) and in the TV films “The Summer of Ben Tyler” (1996) and “Truman Capote's 'A Christmas Memory'” (1997).
After guest appearances in “Frasier” and “Sex and the City” (both 2000), Gillette was cast as Joan Gamble, the mother of Rex (played by John Goodman), in the Fox sitcom “Normal, Ohio” (also 2000), her first TV show performance as a regular since 1988. The show, however, was axed after seven episodes aired. The next year, she appeared in the movies “Early Bird Special” and “Dinner and a Movie,” guest starred in “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” and joined the touring production of the stage musical “Zorba,” where she played Madame Hortense. In the 2002 comedy film “The Guru,” helmed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, she played the mother of Bobby Cannavale's love interest. Her other film credits include Peter Chelsom's “Shall We Dance” (2004, starred Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon), “The Great New Wonderful” segment “Judy's Story” (2005), “The Last Adam” (2006, as the wife of Coach Adams) and Dan Chinander's award winning “Hiding Victoria” (2006, starred as Althea Jaffery). She also acted in the short “She & He” (2007).
From 2005 to 2007, Gillette played the recurring role of grandma Betty in five episodes of the Fox comedy series “The War at Home,” led by Michael Rapaport, and Lily Flynn in three episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” She also guest starred in “Queens Supreme” (as Mrs. DeSipio), “Women's Murder Club” (as Winnie Spencer), “30 Rock” (as Margaret Lemon, all 2007) and “Cold Case” (as Grace Stearns, 2009).
L.A Drama Critics: “Chapter Two,” 1977