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OBITUARIES : Irene Dailey, 1920 - 2008

'Another World' actress also shone on stage

October 11, 2008|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Irene Dailey, an actress who won praise for her stage performances but was best known for her role as Liz Matthews on the NBC daytime soap opera "Another World," has died. She was 88.

Dailey died Sept. 24 of colon cancer at a healthcare facility in Santa Rosa, Calif., according to Arleen Lorrance, a longtime friend. She had been a resident of the Sonoma County town of Guerneville.

After working in the theater for more than 20 years, Dailey was cast as Nettie Cleary in "The Subject Was Roses" in 1964. As the unhappy wife in a family that is reunited after a son returns home from the Army, Dailey's Nettie was "a luminous creation," theater critic Howard Taubman wrote in the New York Times. "She can suggest hurt and desiccation with a stricken glance. Wearing a plain hat and coat and holding her purse, she can turn to walk out of her apartment so that her back conveys utter defeat and despair."

The play, by Frank D. Gilroy, won a Tony award and was Dailey's greatest stage success. She had been cast in a string of Broadway flops, including "Springtime Folly," which closed after two performances in 1951, and "Andorra," which lasted a little more than a week in 1963.

At times she got rave reviews even though the play as a whole was coolly received. In a London production of "Tomorrow -- With Pictures" by Bernard Miller and Anthony Creighton, Dailey played an American woman who tries to take control of a British newspaper empire.

"Every plummy-voiced English rose of an imitation actress should be dragged by the hair to see Miss Dailey," wrote a critic for the London Daily Express in 1960. "She sweats love, breathes hate, weeps desire."

On her way to this triumph, Dailey had spent years working as a waitress and managing a lampshade shop to pay her bills.

"All I really care about is the theater, but now for the first time, I know in my stomach that my work is good," she said of her London success in a 1960 interview with Time magazine.

Dailey was born Sept. 12, 1920, in New York City and started acting in vaudeville shows when she was 8. She worked in summer stock productions as a teenager, following the career path of her older brother, Dan Dailey, an actor and dancer who appeared in a number of movie musicals in the 1940s.

With years of stage experience to her credit, Dailey began the formal study of acting in the 1950s. She was a student of Herbert Berghof and his wife, Uta Hagen. She later taught acting at the Berghof Studio and founded her own school, the School of Actors Co. in New York City, in 1961. She remained on the faculty for 10 years.

In the 1960s she made guest appearances on a number of prime-time television series, including "Dr. Kildare," "Ben Casey" and "The Twilight Zone." She had small roles in several movies, including "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Amityville Horror," in the 1970s.

Dailey joined the cast of "Another World" in 1974. Five years later she won a daytime Emmy award for best actress in a dramatic series. She left the show in 1994.

"Irene played a snobby matriarch and a wonderful buttinsky, always in a real way," said Michael Logan, who writes the "Soap" column for TV Guide. "She was a flesh-and-blood character actress."

One of her last stage performances was received as many of her others had been. She played Margaret in a 1996 production of August Strindberg's "The Father" with Frank Langella in the leading role as the Captain.

The cast was a "mixed bag," Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times. "Only Irene Dailey, playing the Captain's nurse, Old Margaret, is anywhere near Mr. Langella's particular speed of intellect." The play opened in January and closed in February 1996.

Dailey never married and had no children.

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mary.rourke@latimes.com

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