Stage, screen actress Nan Martin dies at 82

Award-winning thesp appeared on 'Goodbye, Mother'

Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema.

Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by Elia Kazan; much later she won a Joseph Jefferson Award for lead actress in 1995’s “Three Tall Women,” written by Edward Albee, with whom she had a close relationship.

Martin was also close to scribes Tennessee Williams and Horton Foote and was featured in Williams’ “Eccentricities of a Nightingale” and Foote’s “Dividing the Estate” and “Getting Frankie Married.”

Born in Decatur, Ill., in 1927, Martin attended UCLA before going to the Max Reinhardt School and Actors’ Lab.

She followed her breakout role in “J.B.” with various perfs in Gotham’s Shakespeare in the Park, where, under the direction of Joseph Papp, she starred in “The Merchant of Venice,” “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

During the 1960s she worked in regional theater including at Washington, D.C.’s, Arena Stage, Houston’s Alley Theater and L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum, where she performed in its inaugural 1967 season in Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi.”

Following a stint in London where she starred in 1963’s “The Three Sisters” with George C. Scott, she traveled the globe as chairwoman of the theater committee of the Ford Foundation, set up under the Department of State for Cultural Exchange, and a member of the Arts Advisory Committee, appointed by President Kennedy.

She was prolific in TV with recurring roles in “The Twilight Zone,” “The Fugitive,” “The Defenders” and “The Untouchables.” In later years she played the memorable Mrs. Louder in “The Drew Carey Show” and had guest appearances in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Nip/Tuck,” “The Practice,” “ER,” “Chicago Hope,” “Suddenly Susan,” “Columbo,” and “Golden Girls.”

Besides “Goodbye, Columbus,” with Ali MacGraw, her film credits included “Toys in the Attic” with Dean Martin and “For the Love of Ivy” with Sidney Poitier and “Nightmare on Elm Street III” as Freddie Krueger’s mother.

Despite a stroke in 1981, Martin continued to work in regional theater including award-winning stints at the South Coast Rep’s “The Road to Mecca,” “Odd Jobs” and “Once in Arden.”

Martin performed numerous readings for National Public Radio’s KCRW. She also taught acting at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum and at El Cerritos College and participated in the AFI Program for Women Directors, directing two short films.

Her first marriage to composer Robert Emmett Dolan ended in divorce.

She is survived by her second husband, architect Harry Gesner; and two sons, musician and writer Casey Dolan and actor-producer Zen Gesner.

More Scene

  • Ryan Murphy Pose

    Ryan Murphy on 'Showrunning as Advocacy' and the Post-Me Too 'Age of Enlightenment'

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • 'The Sinner' film premiere

    Jessica Biel Closes Her Kid-Friendly Au Fudge Restaurant

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • Comedy Converstion with L to R:

    Just for Laughs Festival Honors Tiffany Haddish, Hannah Gadsby, More

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • Paul Krassner Memoir Illustration

    Paul Krassner on Resisting With Humor

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • Just for Laughs Festival Montreal

    Just for Laughs Festival Is the Coachella of Comedy

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • National Comedy Center Set To Open

    National Comedy Center Set To Open During Lucille Ball Fest

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

  • Carter Hudson, John Singleton, Angela LewisFX's

    John Singleton on Disney-Fox Deal: 'You Gotta Let FX Be What It Is'

    Award-winning stage, film and TV actress Nan Martin who portrayed the snobbish mother in “Goodbye, Columbus” and had a recurring role on “The Drew Carey Show,” died Thursday in Malibu. She was 82 and had suffered from emphysema. Martin was Tony-nommed for her breakout role in 1958’s “J.B.,” written by Archibald MacLeish and helmed by […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content