The Odd Couple
Actress Carole Shelley first gained attention from American audiences when she played hilarious Gwendolyn Pigeon in Neil Simon's “The Odd Couple” (1965) on Broadway, a role she reprised for the 1968 successful film version of the play and the ABC television adaptation that ran from 1970 to 1975. She has since become one of Broadway's most versatile actresses and received a Tony Award for her sensitive portrayal of actress Madge Kendal in “The Elephant Man” (1979) and Tony nominations for her work in “Absurd Person Singular” (1974), “Stepping Out” (1987) and “Billy Elliot: The Musical.” She is also known for originating the role of Madame Morrible in the smash Broadway hit “Wicked” (2003). In addition to her stage success, Shelley appeared in the television series “Another World,” “All My Children,” “The Cosby Show,” “One Life to Live,” “Frasier,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Third Watch.” More recent film credits include “Jungle 2 Jungle” (1997), “Labor Pains” (2000) and “Bewitched” (2005, as Aunt Clara).
Childhood and Family:
Carole Shelley was born on August 16, 1939, in London, England. Her father, Curtis Shelley, was a composer and her mother, Deborah, was a singer. Carole trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
On July 26, 1967, Carole married Albert G. Woods and remained with him until his death in 1971.
The Elephant Man
Carole Shelley began her film career at age 10 when she landed a bit part in the 1949 British drama “Give Us This Day,” which was based on the novel “Christ in Concrete” by Pietro Di Donato. Her professional stage debut occurred the following year when she was cast as Little Nell in a production of “The Old Curiosity Shop” (1950). Five years later, Shelley hit the London stage for the first time in “Simon and Laura” (1955) and appeared on screen in the role of Bertha Schaeffer in the episode “Gramma Brenn” (1954) of the anthology series “Rheingold Theatre.” She also received a supporting role in the film “It's Great to Be Young” (1956), which starred John Mills.
In the early 1960s, Shelley played Helen Delling in the comedy film “Carry on Regardless” (1961, starred Sid James), was featured in the indie movie “No My Darling Daughter” (1961), which was adapted from the play “Handful of Tansy” by Kay Bannerman and Harold Brooke, was paired with C. Denier Warren in Michael Winner's spoof “The Cool Mikado” (1963) and appeared in director Gerald Thomas' “Carry on Cabby” (1963), which reunited her with Sid James. On the small screen, she landed guest spots in “The Avengers” (1961), “Dial RIX” (1962) and “Fire Crackers” (1965).
Shelley's big break came in 1965 when she won the role of British widow Gwendolyn Pigeon, Oscar and Felix's upstairs neighbor, on the original Broadway production of “The Odd Couple,” by Neil Simon. The role required her to immigrate to the U.S., and she would remain there and emerge as one of the most successful actresses on Broadway.
Three years after the stage production, “The Odd Couple” was made into a successful film starring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau (reprised his stage role) as Oscar. It was directed by Gene Saks and Shelley was invited to recreate her role of Gwendolyn Pigeon on the film. She again played Gwendolyn Pigeon in the television series version of “The Odd Couple,” which ran on ABC from 1970 to 1975 with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman starring as Felix and Oscar, respectively.
Shelley's next Hollywood movie was “The Boston Strangler” (1968), a drama directed by Richard Fleischer that starred Tony Curtis and Henry Fonda. In the movie, she played the supporting role of Dana Banks. She also had an unaccredited part in the comedy “Some Kind of a Nut” (1969), starring Dick Van Dyke and Angie Dickinson. Shelley returned to Broadway in a 1968 production of Joe Orton's “Loot,” where she portrayed Fay.
Apart from her stint in the “The Odd Couple” series, Shelley did voiceover work in two animated films, “The AristoCats” (1970, as Amelia) and “Robin Hood” (1973, as Lady Cluck). In lieu of limited screen work, she appeared in several stage productions during the 1970s and earned praise for her portrayal of Rosalinda in “As You Like It” at the 1972 Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. She also nabbed a Tony nomination for Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic) for her performance as loyal wife Jane in the Alan Ayckbourn Broadway play “Absurd Person Singular,” which premiered at the Music Box Theatre on October 8, 1974, and was closed after 591 performances in March 1976. She then won a Tony in the category of Best Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Mrs. Kendal in Bernard Pomerance's “The Elephant Man” (1979). She also appeared in Henrik Ibsen's “A Doll's House” (1974) at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, and the original Broadway production of “The Norman Conquests” (1975), playing Ruth. She was nominated for a 1974 Joseph Jefferson in the category of Best Actress in a Principal for “A Doll's House.”
Back to television, Shelley joined the cast of the NBC soap opera “Another World” (1980). She then played June Hagan in “All My Children” during 1981 to 1984 and later guest starred in “Spenser: For Hire” (1986) and “The Cosby Show” (1988). She also costarred with Michael O'Keefe and Paul Rodriguez in the comedy “The Whoopee Boys” (1986), by director John Byrum. Meanwhile, Shelley stayed busy working on stage and succeeded Dorothy Loudon as late-to middle-aged actress Dotty Otley in the Tony nominated play “Noises Off” (1983), by English playwright Michael Frayn, played Kate on Broadway and a touring production of Neil Simon's “Broadway Bound” (1987) and replaced Dame Maggie Smith in Peter Shaffer's “Lettice and Lovage” (1989), which marked her return to the London stage. Shelley picked up a Tony nomination in the category of Best Actress (Featured Role - Play) for playing the aggressive Maxine in Richard Harris' “Stepping Out” (1987).
Returning to the U.S. after “Lettice and Lovage,” Shelley replaced Piper Laurie as the mother in the off-Broadway production of Larry Kramer's “The Destiny of Me” (1993) and was praised for her multiple roles in A.R. Gurney's comedy “Later Life” (also 1993). She next played Diana in Neil Simon's “London Suite” (1995), succeeded Elaine Stritch as Parthy in Harold Prince's heralded revival of “Show Boat” (1995-1996) and replaced Dana Ivey in Alfred Uhry's Tony winning play “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” (1997). She also portrayed Frau Schneider in the hit revival of “Cabaret” (1999), where she replaced Blair Brown.
On screen, Shelley appeared as Lorna in an episode of “Monsters” called “Malcolm,” shot an unsold pilot called “Coconut Downs” (1991), and played Babs Bartlett in “One Life to Live” from 1991 to 1992. She returned to feature films in the Rod Daniel directed comedy “The Super” (1991), where she played the supporting role of Irene Kritski. The film starred Joe Pesci. Shelley then portrayed Aunt Shirley in “Little Noises,” starring Tatum O'Neal and Crispin Glover, was cast with Bryan Brown, Lloyd Bridges, Whip Hubley and Lisa Eichhorn in Rick Rosenthal's TV film adaptation of “Devlin” (1992), supported John Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria and Christopher McDonald in the Robert Redford acclaimed movie “Quiz Show” (1994) and worked with Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, Matthew Broderick, John Cusack, Dana Carvey and Michael Lerner in the Alan Parker comedy “The Road to Wellville” (1994). In 1997, she provided her voice to the animated feature “Hercules,” which starred Tate Donovan as the voice of Hercules, and portrayed Fiona on “Jungle 2 Jungle,” starring Tim Allen and Martin Short. She also voiced Lachesis in the video game version of “Hercules” (also 1997), the direct to video “Hercules: Zero to Hero” (1999), and a 1998 episode of the “Hercules” television series. She then played Helen Moskowitz in an episode of “Frasier” called “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz.”
2000 saw Shelley play a role in “Labor Pains,” featuring Kyra Sedgwick and Rob Morrow, and guest star in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” She portrayed Sister Rose in a 2002 episode of “Third Watch” titled “Cold Front” and in 2003, created the role of menacing headmistress Madame Morrible in the musical play “Wicked,” a loose adaptation of the best selling novel “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” by Gregory Maguire. The show premiered on Broadway at the Gershwin Theatre on October 30, 2003, and became a smash hit. She left the production on May 29, 2005, and was replaced by Rue McClanahan.
Shelley was next cast as Aunt Clara in Nora Ephron's big screen adaptation of “Bewitched,” which starred Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. It was released on June 24, 2005. Later that same year, on December 21, she reprised the role of Madame Morrible on the first National Tour version of “Wicked,” where she replaced Carol Kane. She stayed with the National Tour for eleven weeks until March 5, 2006. She later returned to the Broadway production of “Wicked” on August 28, 2007, and recreated the role of Madame Morrible until January 20, 2008, when she was replaced by Miriam Margoyle, the original Madame Morrible of the London production.
In October 2008, Shelley played Grandma in “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” a play by Elton John and Lee Hall, at the Imperial Theatre in New York City. The role brought her a 2009 Tony nomination for Best Performance for a Featured Actress in a Musical. In 2009, Shelley appeared in the short film “The Queen of Greenwich Village,” which was written and directed by Kara Raynaud.
Tony: Best Actress in a Play, “The Elephant Man,” 1979