Though her carefully cultivated stage accent suggests a British upbringing, Tammy Grimes was born and raised in the United States. Still an active performer in 2011, she has won Tony Awards® for her work in plays and musicals, with star turns in Private Lives and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. In 1966 she had her own sitcom, “The Tammy Grimes Show,” and she was a guest star on countless television shows from the late 1950s to the end of the twentieth century.
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1934, Grimes attended school in Massachusetts and went to college in Columbia, Missouri, before heading to New York to study acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. By 1956 she was sharing the stage at New York’s Phoenix Theatre with Joel Grey in The Littlest Revue, featuring lyrics and music by Ogden Nash and Vernon Duke.
In 1959, Grimes landed the starring role in Noël Coward’s Look After Lulu!, a comedy based on a French play by Georges Feydeau. Though Coward had originally envisioned other actresses for the part, when he caught Grimes’s cabaret act in New York, he eagerly chose her to play his prostitute heroine. Grimes won the 1959 Theatre World Award for her performance.
The following year marked one of Grimes’s biggest successes: her starring role as Molly Tobin in the original cast of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960), Meredith Willson’s musical about a true-life country girl with aspirations to high society who eventually survives the sinking of the Titanic. For her performance, Grimes earned the 1961 Tony Award® for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
In 1964 Grimes starred in another Noël Coward work, High Spirits, a musical adaptation of his comedy classic Blithe Spirit. She played Elvira – the ghost of the protagonist’s wife – opposite Edward Woodward (later of “The Equalizer” fame). The show earned numerous Tony® nods, and in her next Coward show, Private Lives (1969), Grimes took home the Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Play and, with her co-star Brian Bedford, shared the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. Her later Broadway credits include California Suite, Tartuffe, Trick, 42nd Street, and Orpheus Descending. Grimes also appeared on stage at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada.
Her first husband was Christopher Plummer; the actress Amanda Plummer is their daughter. Now in her 70s, Grimes continues to perform, having made several appearances at the Metropolitan Room in New York in 2010.