Jessica Walter, the sassy actress who excelled at portraying unhinged types, from the obsessed fan of a radio deejay in Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me to nutty matriarchs on Arrested Development and Archer, has died. She was 80.
Walter died Wednesday night at home in New York, her daughter, Fox Entertainment executive Brooke Bowman, said.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of my beloved mom, Jessica,” she said. “A working actor for over six decades, her greatest pleasure was bringing joy to others through her storytelling both on screen and off. While her legacy will live on through her body of work, she will also be remembered by many for her wit, class and overall joie de vivre.”
Walter’s husband of 36 years, Tony-winning actor Ron Leibman, died in December 2019 at age 82.
Early in her career, the New Yorker stood out in a pair of 1966 features as Libby MacAusland, an ambitious, acerbic wit who finds professional success but has trouble expressing her sexuality, in Sidney Lumet’s The Group (1966) and as Pat Stoddard, a woman who has romantic entanglements in the Formula 1-set Grand Prix, directed by John Frankenheimer.
She won an Emmy in 1975 for portraying San Francisco’s first female chief of detectives in the limited series Amy Prentiss (the character was introduced on Ironside) and was nominated three others times, the last in 2005 for her delicious turn as the manipulative Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. (She started on the series in 2003.)
Always drinking, always exuding an air of entitlement, the sarcastic Lucille was at the center of an ever-evolving mess of a once-wealthy, now desperate family on the Fox/Netflix sitcom. Her razor-sharp work was a huge reason for the show’s cult appeal, and her lines became catchphrases and her mannerisms memes.
“People have been great, especially in New York, where you are walking around a lot,” Walter noted in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2013. “The one line I get a lot is, ‘I’d like to cry but I can’t spare the moisture.’
“And winks! Actually, I can do that wink, and it is very difficult, with one eye totally closed and one eye totally open. It said in the script that Lucille winks, and since I can do that in real life, I just thought it would be good to do a specific wink for the character. And they liked it so much that they started writing in more winks. I can’t believe my wink has gone viral!”
Her performance helped Walter land her gig as Malory Archer on FX/FXX’s Archer starting in 2009. As the former CEO of the International Secret Intelligence Service, the agency where her son, Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), works, she was ruthless, domineering and critical — and rarely seen without a cocktail.
Archer creator Adam Reed told her that she was the first one cast on the animated show, and the fact that Malory and Lucille were similar in nature was not coincidental.
As she told The Daily Beast in 2017: “They sent out copy for auditions to people that said, ‘Think of the type as Jessica Walter from Arrested Development.’ And my agent who got the copy called me and said, ‘They’re thinking about you. If you like it, I’ll tell them you’re interested in doing it.’ I said, ‘That sounds smart.’ And that’s exactly how it happened.”
Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 31, 1941, Walter was raised in Astoria, Queens. Her father, David, was a world-class violinist who performed with Arturo Toscanini and Pablo Casals, and her mother, Esther, was an immigrant from Russia. Her brother, Richard, would go on to write screenplays and teach the craft to Dustin Lance Black, Alexander Payne and Andrew Bergman, among others, as a longtime UCLA professor.
Walter studied acting at Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts and the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she was guided by Sydney Pollack and her classmates included James Caan and Brenda Vacarro, who years later would introduce her to Leibman.
(Excerpt) Read more in: The Hollywood Reporter