The handsomely chiseled features of American singer and actress Constance Towers (b. Whitefish, MT, May 20, 1933) have helped to dramatize the diverse roles she has played, from the tough broads of her 1950s films, through the bold leading ladies of the musical theatre in the 1960s and ’70s, to the mature character parts, both sinister and kindly, that she plays on television to this day. Currently she is best known as evil matriarch Helena Cassadine on daytime TV’s General Hospital. She has been nominated twice for Emmy Awards®.
Constance Mary Towers sang on the radio as a child (her family was “creative, if not musical”), and at the age of eleven she actually turned down a contract with Paramount Pictures because she had her heart set on becoming an opera singer. Her family’s move from Montana to New York City enabled her to study at the Juilliard School of Music and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She caught the musical theatre bug when she took part in a summer production of Carousel, and began to sing on the nightclub circuit. Hollywood called again; Towers starred with Frankie Laine in her first movie, the inoffensive Blake Edwards musical Bring Your Smile Along, in 1955. Director John Ford then cast her in two roles as feisty frontier dames in The Horse Soldiers (1959) with John Wayne and William Holden and Sergeant Rutledge (1960) with Jeffrey Hunter and Woody Strode. Film noir director Samuel Fuller took her persona down a peg and shot her in black-and-white as an exotic dancer in Shock Corridor (1963) and as a prostitute on the road to reform in The Naked Kiss (1964).
Meanwhile she was establishing a more clean-cut image in the theatre, singing the part of Sarah the missionary in Guys and Dolls (1960) at the Civic Light Opera in Los Angeles, and touring U.S. cities as Guinevere in Camelot (1962). During this period Towers also sang on The Ed Sullivan Show and Tonight with Jack Paar, and appeared several times on Perry Mason.
Constance Towers’s Broadway record is not a brilliant one, largely due to the poor quality of the vehicles she was offered. Her debut was in the title role of Anya (1965), a musical based on the fictionalized play about the russian Princess Anastasia, with music adapted from Rachmaninoff. It survived only sixteen performances. A 1971 musical adaptation of Exodus called Ari suffered a similar fate. Towers’s biggest Broadway hit was as Anna in a revival of The King and I with Yul Brynner in 1977 that lasted close to 800 performances.
Towers had a far more vibrant career off-Broadway and in the music theatres of U.S. cities. She was Julie in Showboat at the New York State Theatre in 1966, Julie Jordan in Carousel at the City Center the same year, Maria in The Sound of Music at Jones Beach in 1967 (winning an Outer Critic’s Circle Award), in 1971 and 1980, and starred in a nationwide tour of Oh Coward! in 1974. She also enjoyed extended runs of Dumas and Son at the Civic Light Opera, The King and I at Jones Beach, I Do! I Do! in Saugus, MA, My Fair Lady in Indianapolis, and Mame in Springfield, MO.
After a twenty-year hiatus, Towers returned to the silver screen in Fast Forward and Sylvester in 1985 and has made intermittent appearances thereafter in The Nutt House (1992), The Next Karate Kid (1994), The Relic (1997), and A Perfect Murder (1998) in which she plays Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother.
Although she has guest-starred on many prime-time television shows (Hawaii Five-O 1975, The Rockford Files 1979, Murder, She Wrote 1986, L.A. Law 1987, MacGyver 1989, Designing Women 1990, Matlock 1991, Baywatch 1992, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1993, Frasier 1994, Caroline in the City 1995, Providence 2000), Towers has built her most loyal and admiring fan base (in spite of her unsympathetic roles) on daytime TV. In 1974 she received a Daytime Emmy® nomination for her part in the drama special Once in Her Life on CBS Daytime 90. Since then she has been a regular on Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1971–72), The Young and the Restless (1973), Capitol (1984–87), 2000 Malibu Road (1992), and Sunset Beach (1997). She has recently returned to the cast of General Hospital in the role that earned her second Emmy® nomination in 2002, for the Special Fan Award: America’s Favorite Villain.
Constance Towers has four children, two from her first marriage to Panamanian businessman Eugene McGrath, and two with actor and former Mexican ambassador John Gavin, to whom she has been married since 1974. She is active in numerous charities: the Children’s Bureau of California, the National Health Foundation, the Red Cross, the Blue Ribbon of Los Angeles, and an adoption placement agency for Mexican and Salvadoran children called “Project Connie.”