Mildred Dunnock, revered actress, dies


Mildred Dunnock, the actress who pleaded that "attention must be paid" to the downtrodden Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," died at age 90 Friday in Martha's Vineyard, Mass.

Best known for creating the role of Linda Loman opposite Lee J. Cobb in the 1949 Broadway production of the Arthur Miller play, the Baltimore-born actress reprised the part on television and in the 1951 film, for which she received an Academy Award nomination.

Four months ago she was honored here by her alma mater, Goucher College, which named the two-story teaching theater in the new Meyerhoff Arts Center the Mildred Dunnock Theatre. Her daughter, Linda McGuire, represented her at the ceremony.

At the time, Goucher President Rhoda M. Dorsey commented, "Mildred Dunnock has had a long and highly distinguished career as an actress, and she has been a strong supporter of Goucher . . . so it seems especially appropriate, at a time when theater is again flourishing here, to honor her."

A 1922 graduate of the college, who recently gave the school almost 600 theater books, Miss Dunnock visited the campus at least six times

over the years. "She was a wonderfully kind and effective teacher," Ms. Dorsey recalled yesterday.

In one of her early visits she addressed a career conference, warning students against going on the stage. "You will starve. Your stomach will ache for food. You will break your heart," she said.

However, Miss Dunnock, who described herself as an ordinary woman, seemed to delight in portraying extraordinary women on stage and screen. Besides Linda Loman, her highly regarded roles included Lavinia in Lillian Hellman's "Another Part of the Forest," Big Mama in Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and Miss Ronberry in Emlyn Williams' "The Corn is Green." She received a second Academy Award nomination in 1956 for her performance in Williams' "Baby Doll."

Her interest in acting first surfaced as a student at Western High School in Baltimore when a teacher asked her to read from the Bible at a school assembly. "The experience disclosed that though I was a shy little thing, I had a voice. The discovery gave me confidence," she recalled years later.

At Goucher, Miss Dunnock was active in the college drama society. In 1972 she told an alumnae group: "[Goucher] opened the door to something . . . My father thought a woman should get married and stay at home. I remember when a counselor told him that she thought I should get a master's degree in theater. My father was astounded, but she told him that I had the theater in me. It put a bee in my bonnet."

After graduation, Miss Dunnock taught at Friends School and acted with a theater group at Johns Hopkins University, as well as at the Vagabond Players, where she made her first appearance in 1924 in W. Somerset Maugham's "Penelope."

Following her college counselor's advice, Miss Dunnock earned a master's degree from Columbia University. She began appearing on Broadway in the early 1930s. Besides Friends School, she taught at the Brearley School in Manhattan, Barnard College and the Yale School of Drama.

Miss Dunnock, who had been living in Martha's Vineyard, is survived by her husband of almost 60 years, Keith Urmy, a retired banker; her daughter, also an actress; and three grandchildren.

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