Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anne Pitoniak, 1922-2007

Anne Pitoniak, 85, Actress Who Played Strong Older Women, Dies


Published: April 26, 2007

Anne Pitoniak, who began her stage career in late middle age, but received a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut, in “ ’night, Mother,” and had an enduring career playing strong-willed older women, died on Sunday at home in Manhattan. She was 85.

Kathy Bates, left, and Anne Pitoniak in "'night, Mother" in 1983.

The cause was complications of cancer, said her son, Christian Milord.

Other than a few roles in summer stock theater right out of college, Ms. Pitoniak spent most of her acting life in television and radio commercials. But in 1975, when she was in her mid-50s, her marriage having ended in divorce and her two children grown, she decided to study acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute. Two years later she became a resident actor at the Actors Theater of Louisville in Kentucky, where her first role was in Marsha Norman’s first play, “Getting Out.”

Ms. Pitoniak quickly developed a following at the Actors Theater, the host theater of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Among the plays she appeared in were John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God” and Jane Martin’s “Talking With,” which was moved to Off Broadway by the Manhattan Theater Club.

“ ’night, Mother” was the third of Ms. Norman’s plays in which Ms. Pitoniak starred. She portrayed a fiercely desperate mother whose daughter, played by Kathy Bates, suddenly announces suicidal intentions, a performance described as “harrowing” by Frank Rich in The New York Times. The play went to the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., then to Broadway, where it opened in 1983.

Ms. Pitoniak acted in six more plays on Broadway, including a 1994 revival of William Inge’s “Picnic,” for which she received her second Tony nomination, and David Hare’s “Amy’s View” in 1999. She also appeared in movies and on television shows like “Third Watch” and “Law & Order: SVU.”

Born in Westfield, Mass., Ms. Pitoniak graduated from what is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She joined the U.S.O. soon after and met her husband, Jerome Milord, then a soldier, when they were both in a U.S.O. show in Japan. They divorced in 1968.

In addition to her son, Christian, Ms. Pitoniak’s survivors include a daughter, Susan; a grandson; and two sisters and a brother.

In 2000 Ms. Pitoniak told “I have never put ‘actress’ on any form of identification. I’m not trying to be coy, but I always felt that it would have been stretching things a bit to identify myself that way.”

That changed, she said, after “Amy’s View,” in which she appeared at age 77. “For the first time,” she said, “I felt that, if I had to get a passport today, I’d put it down. I’d say that I am an actress.”


Why is this on BillyBlog? In 1992, Ms. Pitoniak was a guest star on the short-lived Fox sitcom "Down the Shore". I was working on the show in 1992, during season 1 as a production assistant. I met Ms. Pitoniak. She was a lovely woman who was very kind and a joy to work with. I remember picking her up from/driving her back to her hotel room. I remember also how the young cast were in awe of the actress, who had made the stage and screen a career.

A small connection, but noteworthy nonetheless.

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