Kate Burton
Birth Date:
September 10, 1957
Birth Place:
Geneva, Switzerland
Show more

The Constant Wife


"I'm usually the sweet wife. Or the sweet dead wife." Kate Burton (describing her acting roles).

Daytime Emmy Award-winning actress Kate Burton, the daughter of legendary actor Richard Burton, made her film debut in her father's film "Anne of the Thousand Days" (1969) before eventually made her own name while starring in such TV series as "Home Fires" (1992; as mother Anne Kramer), "Monty" (1994; as Henry Winkler's wife and David Schwimmer's mother Fran), "The Practice" (1997-2004; as district attorney Susan Alexander), and "Grey's Anatomy" (2005-2007; as Meredith's (played by Ellen Pompeo) mother Ellis Grey).

Meanwhile, she also has appeared in the films "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986), "Celebrity" (1998), "Unfaithful" (2002), "Stay" (2005), "The City of Your Final Destination" (2007), and "Quid Pro Quo" (2008). She will next be seen in the upcoming films "Max Payne," "Spooner," "The Kings of Appletown," "Consent," and "The Story of a Mother."

One of the 30 members of the Tony Administration Committee, Burton has been nominated Tony Award three times, in 2002 for her performances in "Hedda Gabler" and "The Elephant Man," and in 2005 for her work in the revival of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Constant Wife."

Burton has retained her British citizenship, but considers herself an American actress as she has spent most of her life in the USA. She has been married to theatre director Michael Ritchie since 1984 and has two children together.

Bohemian Family

Childhood and Family:

"Basically, I'm part of this large, creative, mildly crazy, loosely connected loving family. But really, these days, who isn't?" Kate Burton (referring to her extended, rather bohemian family).

Born in Geneva, Switzerland on September 10, 1957 to producer Sybil Burton and Welsh multiple award-winning actor who was at one time the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, Richard Burton (November 10, 1925 – August 5, 1984), Kate Burton moved to USA at age four after her parents' famous divorce and grew up in Manhattan. She has retained her British citizenship, but considers herself an American actress as she has spent most of her life in the USA.

Burton's step-father is actor Jordan Christopher and her step-mothers are actress Elizabeth Taylor and Sally Hay. She has two sisters, Jessica Burton (born in 1959; autistic) and Maria Burton (adopted by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor). She also has one half sister, Amy Christopher. Her godmother is Radie Harris and her godfather is playwright/actor Emlyn Williams.

"Jessica is mentally retarded which is very difficult. But she has been in a home for a very long time and it is something that has become part of our lives. Everybody has something in their family and it's hard... I feel fortunate that my father was so successful that he made the money he did so he could support her for the rest of her life. Certainly my life would have been different if Jessica had been all right. I wouldn't have been the daughter of Richard Burton. There would have been two of us to share things." Kate Burton (about her sister Jessica).

Initially planning to pursue a diplomatic career, Burton studied European history and Russian studies at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, where she received a BA degree in 1979. During her senior year, she became interested in the family business and went on to study acting at School of Drama, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, and graduated with an MFA degree in 1982. She was a classmate of Jane Kaczmarek there. In 2007, Burton was given an honorary doctorate from Brown University.

While she was making her Broadway debut in "Present Laughter" in 1982, Burton met Michael Ritchie (born in 1958), who was a stage manager at the time. Ritchie is now the director of Massachusetts' Williamstown Theatre Festival, Artistic Director of the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, and one of the producers of the Broadway musicals The Drowsy Chaperone and Curtains. Burton and Ritchie were married in 1984 and have two children, son Morgan Ritchie (born in 1988) and daughter Charlotte Ritchie (born in 1998).

Grey's Anatomy


"I feel very grateful to make my living as an actor. That was always my hope and my plan, to make my living this way. I didn't become an actor to win an award. I certainly didn't become an actor to be a star. I thought if I get to play interesting roles, and I get to be challenged and I get to make my living... that's enough for me." Kate Burton (basically about her acting career).

Raised in a family working in the showbiz, Kate Burton initially planned to pursue a diplomatic career. She first became interested in the family business during her senior year at Brown University and went on to study the craft at School of Drama in Yale University, which she graduated in 1982.

Meanwhile, in 1969, she made her screen debut with an uncredited tiny part as a serving maid in Charles Jarrott's Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Maxwell Anderson's play, "Anne of a Thousand Days," starring her father Richard Burton as King Henry VIII. She also played Sarah in Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical "Company" in the early 1970s.

Burton made New York stage debut in 1982 in a production of Noel Coward's comedic play "Present Laughter" and made her stage musical debut in the following year in a staging of "Doonesbury." In 1983, she also portrayed the titular character in an Off-Broadway production of "Alice in Wonderland," a role which she would later recreate for PBS version that also featured her father, and headlined the Off-Broadway play "Winners."

In 1984, Burton co-starred with her father in the critically-received CBS miniseries "Ellis Island," and he died shortly thereafter. Two years later, she appeared in the big screen, in John Carpenter's comedy/action film "Big Trouble in Little China" (1986), alongside Kurt Russell and Kim Cattrall.

The 1990s saw Burton played a mother named Anne Kramer in the NBC comedy series "Home Fires" (1992; alongside Nicole Eggert) and appeared as Henry Winkler's wife and David Schwimmer's mother Fran in the short-lived Fox sitcom "Monty" (1994). She also starred as a mother suffering from a breast cancer in "Notes for My Daughter" (1996), an "ABC Afterschool Special" that won her a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special.

From 1997 to 2004, Burton appeared regularly in episodes from the pilot through the series finale of the ABC legal drama series "The Practice," playing district attorney Susan Alexander. During this time, she had featured role in L.A. production of Tom Stoppard's 1993 play "Arcadia" (1997) and returned to Broadway succeeding Kate Nelligan in "An American Daughter" (June 1997). She also had supporting role as as Robin's friend Cheryl in Woody Allen's comedy "Celebrity" (1998) and assumed leading role in the Broadway production of "The Beauty Queen of Lenane" (1999), which she would reprise in 2000 in Irish staging of "The Beauty Queen of Lenane" in Waterford.

In 2002, Burton was nominated for two Tony Awards: as Best Actress (Play) for portraying the title character in a revival of Henrik Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," and as Best Actress (Featured Role - Play) for playing Pinhead/Mrs. Kendal in a revival of Bernard Pomerance's "The Elephant Man," starring Billy Crudup. This made her one of only three actors (the others are Amanda Plummer and Dana Ivey) to be Tony-nominated for two acting awards in the same year.

Also in 2002, Burton portrayed Anna in a production of David Mamet's play "Boston Marriage" at Joseph Papp Public Theater/Martinson Hall, New York City, New York, and was cast opposite Diane Lane and Richard Gere in Adrian Lyne's drama/thriller film "Unfaithful."

From 2005 to 2007, Burton portrayed Meredith's (played by Ellen Pompeo) mother, an ex-surgeon who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, on the ABC medical drama "Grey's Anatomy." Her performance in the show earned an Emmy nomination in 2006 and 2007 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.

Meanwhile, Burton appeared with Naomi Watts and Ryan Gosling in Marc Forster's "Stay" (2005) and was cast in the HBO mini-series based on Richard Russo's novel, "Empire Falls" (2005). She also starred as Constance Middleton in the revival of W. Somerset Maugham's "The Constant Wife" (June 2005), which earned her a Tony nomination, performed in Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" (January 2006) in Boston's Huntington Theater, and played Miss Moffat in the play "The Corn Is Green" (August 2007) at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts, which was written by her godfather Emlyn Williams. Her son Morgan Ritchie and her daughter Charlotte Ritchie also co-star in the play.

Recently, in January 2008, Burton played all the adult female roles on the Broadway hit show "Spring Awakening." She had worked on the musical before when it was in workshop. Next, she will join John Pankow, Mia Barron and Jane Kaczmarek in director Nicholas Martin's new production of John Guare's dark comedy "The House of Blue Leaves" to open the newly renovated Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

On the big screen, Burton could be seen in the films "Lovely by Surprise," "The City of Your Final Destination" (with Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney), and "Quid Pro Quo" (starring Nick Stahl and Vera Farmiga). She has completed her latest film, "Max Payne," an action/drama/thriller directed by John Moore starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. She is now working on her upcoming film projects, Drake Doremus' drama/comedy "Spooner" (starring Matthew Lillard), Robert Moresco's action/adventure "The Kings of Appletown" (starring Dylan Sprouse and Cole Sprouse), Ron Brown's drama "Consent," and James David Hart's animated movie "The Story of a Mother."

Burton is also a highly respected and talented audio book reader. She is constantly represented among best-selling audio titles.

"I always say that you just never know. You think you can make a plan, but there is no plan. You have to keep yourself open and your heart full, and be open to the experience. The most important thing is that you have to be happy in your life. Your career cannot be your source of happiness. Your family and friends need to be the source of your happiness. Your career is an expression of you, but it can't be all of you." Kate Burton (her advice to aspiring actors).


  • Daytime Emmy: Outstanding Performer in a Children's Special, "ABC Afterschool Specials" for episode "Notes for My Daughter," 1996

Show Less
© Retna
© Retna