Jessica Walter was as an actress in film and on stage for more than 60 years. She was known for playing women who were both beautiful and predatory.
Walter was born in Brooklyn, New York, and attended New York City’s High School of Performing Arts.
She began her acting career on stage, winning a Clarence Derwent Award in 1963 for Outstanding Debut Broadway Performance in Photo Finish by Peter Ustinov. She soon moved to television, and played Julie Muranoon on the television series, Love of Life.
Reviewing her career spanning 200-plus roles she said, “Honey, you name it, I’ve done it.” She was nominated for a Golden Globe award for her starring role in the 1971 film Play Misty for Me, Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut.
Known for her impeccable comic timing and dramatic depth, Walter played women who were irresistible and also a little murderous. She was best known late in her career as Lucille Bluth, the manipulative matriarch on the TV show Arrested Development.
Walter once told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m very Jewish in my heart. Organized religion is a little tricky! I admire anyone who follows their heart. Mine just doesn’t take me quite to the door.”
Her roles included: Bye Bye Braverman (1968), The Flamingo Kid (1984), The Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), and the TV movie, Victory at Entebbe (1976). She guest-starred on numerous TV shows, including Magnum PI, Matt Houston, Hawaii Five-O, Columbo, Mannix, The FBI, Mission: Impossible, The Fugitive, The Defenders, and Ironside. She won an Emmy for her starring role in the Ironside spinoff Amy Prentiss.
Walter was married to Ross Bowman, a former Broadway stage manager and television director, from 1966 to 1978. She later married actor Ron Leibman in 1983 and they remained married until his death in 2019. They appeared together in Neil Simon’s play Rumors, and portrayed husband and wife in the film Dummy (2003) and on Law & Order.
Unlike many of her roles, Walter was a sweet mother and devoted wife, always happy to boast about her “fabulous” daughter, the successful TV executive Brooke Bowman.
She died March 25, 2021, at the age of 80.
Source: Ron Kampeas, “Jessica Walter, Jewish actress known for roles in ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Archer,’ dies at 80,” JTA, (March 25, 2021).
“Jessica Walter,” juf.org.
Lior Zaltzman, “Legendary Jewish Actress and Mom Jessica Walter Was an Inspiration to Us All,” Kveller, (March 25, 2021).