Broadway legend Uta Hagen dies. The actress, who created the role of Martha in ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'', was 84

By Gary Susman
Updated January 15, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

Uta Hagen, who set a towering example over a seven-decade career as a fiercely commanding actress on Broadway and as a teacher to generations of New York actors, died Wednesday at her Manhattan home, the New York Times reports. The German-born actress, whose three Tonys included one for creating the role of Martha in the landmark 1962 production of Edward Albee’s ”Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” was 84.

Hagen made her professional debut at age 18 in a 1937 production of ”Hamlet,” playing Ophelia opposite the legendary Eva LeGallienne in the title role. She made her Broadway debut a year later as Nina in a production of Chekhov’s ”The Seagull” opposite Broadway’s First Couple, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. She was married to actor Jose Ferrer from 1938 to 1948 and starred in a number of plays with him, including the famous production of ”Othello” that starred Paul Robeson as Othello, Hagen as Desdemona, and Ferrer as Iago. In 1947, she replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche opposite Marlon Brando’s Stanley on Broadway in ”A Streetcar Named Desire.” She won her first Tony in 1951 for the title character in Clifford Odets’ ”The Country Girl,” a role that would later win an Oscar for Grace Kelly in the film version.

Hagen devoted much of the latter half of her life to teaching at the HB Studios, the New York acting school she founded with Herbert Berghof, who was her husband from 1957 until his death in 1990. Still, she couldn’t pass up the role of Martha, the boozy, venomous college professor’s wife in ”Virginia Woolf.” The part won her a second Tony, and she played it for nearly two years. She was devoted to the stage; she seldom acted in TV or movies (filmgoers may remember her as the devoted maid of Glenn Close’s Sunny von Bulow in 1990’s ”Reversal of Fortune.”) In 1999, she won her third Tony, a lifetime achievement award. Even after suffering a stroke in 2002, she continued to teach at HB Studios until a few months before she died.