Born May 9, 1936 in Birkenhead, England to working class parents, Glenda Jackson was named after actress Glenda Farrell. Having performed with a local acting group while in her teens, she received a scholarship to the London based Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1954. She made her professional acting debut in a RADA production of Separate Tables in 1957. Her film debut was in a bit part in 1963’s This Sporting Life.
Jackson’s career took off with Marat/Sade in which she first appeared in London in 1965. She was nominated for a Tony for the Broadway production in 1966, the first of five Broadway plays throughout her career, all of which earned her a Tony nomination. She also starred in the 1967 film version.
It was Ken Russell’s 1969 film, Women in Love (1970 in the U.S.) that made her a major star and won her a New York Film Critics award and an Oscar. In 1971, she would star in Russell’s The Music Lovers opposite Richard Chamberlain and play a cameo in his film version of The Boy Friend. That year she also starred as Elizabeth I in the acclaimed TV mini-series, Elizabeth R, for which she won an Emmy. She then starred alongside Peter Finch in John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday and ended the year reprising her Elizabeth I opposite Vanessa Redgrave’s Mary, Queen of Scots.
Jackson’s next two films, Triple Echo and The Nelson Affair were not successful, but 1973’s A Touch of Class was a box-office hit for which she won a surprise second Oscar. Three 1975 films, The Maids, The Romantic Englishwoman and Hedda, none of which were successful, at least kept her name in the spotlight and she was nominated a fourth time for an Oscar for the latter. She received her best notices in years for 1977’s Nasty Habits, but that film was barely released, as was 1978’s Stevie for which she received a Golden Globe nomination as British poet Stevie Smith. She received her second New York Film Critics award for that role when the film finally opened in New York in 1981. Her only box office successes in this period were 1978’s House Calls and 1980’s Hopscotch, both opposite Walter Matthau. She did, however, receive a Golden Globe nomination for the 1981 TV movie, The Patricia Neal Story opposite Dirk Bogarde.
Jackson earned three Tony Award nominations during the 1980s for Rose, Strange Interlude and Macbeth. Her films during this period included 1985’s Turtle Diary and 1989’s The Rainbow.
Jackson retired from acting and was elected to the British Parliament in 1991 where she was an outspoken liberal. She retired in 2015 and returned to acting. Having appeared in the title role in an acclaimed 2016 London production of King Lear, she returned to Broadway in 2018’s Three Tall Women for which she won a Tony on her fifth nomination, making her the 26th winner of the triple crown of acting – the Oscar, the Emmy and the Tony.
Glenda Jackson remains a force to be reckoned with at 82.
WOMEN IN LOVE (1969), directed by Ken Russell
Then, as now, the selling point of Russell’s film of D.H. Lawrence’s 1920 novel was the nude wrestling match between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. While all four of the film’s stars, which included Jackson and Jennie Linden, gave indelible performances, it was Jackson who earned the most praise including her first Oscar. She would next star for Russell as the nymphomaniac wife of Richard Chamberlain’s homosexual Tchaikovsky in 1971’s The Music Lovers. Her fifth and final Russell film would be 1989’s The Rainbow in which she played the mother of her Women in Love character.
SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (1971), directed by John Schlesinger
Schlesinger’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy was this semi-autobiographical film in which a gay doctor, played by Peter Finch, and a modern businesswoman, played by Jackson, share a lover in a bisexual artist played by Murray Head (the original Judas of Jesus Christ Superstar). Finch and Jackson who would next star as Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in 1972’s The Nelson Affair have just one scene together here, but both provide unforgettable performances for which they both won BAFTAS and were nominated for Oscars.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1972), directed by Charles Jarrott
Jackson’s portrayal of Elizabeth I in the early 1971 mini-series, Elizabeth R, is still regarded as the most accurate portrait of the queen. Its impact was so immediate and so indelible that it would have been unthinkable to cast anyone else at that time in the role of Elizabeth opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the title role of one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year. Although the two queens allegedly never met in real life, their meeting in every dramatic version of the story is that production’s highlight. That is certainly true in this film in which the two acting legends have a go at each other.
A TOUCH OF CLASS (1963), directed by Melvin Frank
An ode to infidelity, one of the great mysteries of the Oscars will always be how this smarmy, inelegant so-called comedy got nominated for Best Picture, Screenplay, Song and Score. The only decent thing about it was Jackson’s performance which barely deserved a nomination in a weak year, let alone a win for Best Actress, her second one at that. Jackson provides the film’s “touch of class”, but that’s all it is – just a touch. Legend has it that George Segal replaced Cary Grant who wisely turned down the role of her abrasive lover even though the writers offered to add an inter-generational age angle to the plot to suit him.
NASTY HABITS (1977), directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg
This was political satire at its best. Set in a Philadelphia convent, the Mother Abbess (Dame Edith Evans) has died and two nuns (Glenda Jackson, Melina Mercouri) battle it out to become her replacement. Jackson represents Richard Nixon and Mercouri, Henry Kissenger. Other nuns include those played by Geraldine Page and Anne Jackson representing Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Sandy Dennis representing John Dean and Anne Meara representing Gerald Ford. Page, Anne Jackson and Meara’s husbands, Rip Torn, Eli Wallach and Jerry Stiller have featured roles. The entire cast has its moments with Glenda Jackson coming off best.
GLENDA JACKSON AND OSCAR
- Women in Love (1970) – Oscar – Best Actress
- Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) – nominated – Best Actress
- A Touch of Class (1973) – Oscar – Best Actress
- Hedda (1975) – nominated – Best Actress