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‘Virginia Woolf’ star, acting teacher was 86

Rochelle Oliver, who starred on Broadway in Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the attic and that of Edward Albee Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and taught acting at the respected HB Studio in New York since the 1970s, has passed away. She was 86.

Oliver died on April 13, the HB Studio announced. “Those who knew Rochelle will know what a luminous artist, sensitive and passionate teacher she was,” read an Instagram post. She died two days before her birthday.

For the big screen, Oliver starred in the Horton Foote-written film 1918 (1985) and Courtship (1987) and appeared in other films such as The lucky whore (1975), Paul Mazursky’s Next stop, Greenwich Village (1976), John Sayles’ Lianna (1983), An unremarkable life (1989), Martin Brest Smell of a woman (1992) and Woody Allens Hollywood ending (2002).

She also returned as judge Grace Larkin Law & authority from 1993-03.

Oliver, a protege of Uta Hagen – who also taught at HB for decades and was married to founder Herbert Berghof – made her Broadway debut in 1960 in Toys in the attic as Lily Berniers, the young, selfish bride of Jason Robards’ character.

She received the Clarence Derwent Award for her performance in the Arthur Penn-directed production, which also starred Maureen Stapleton and Anna Revere, and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play (it lost to The miracle worker).

From left: Jason Robards, Anne Revere, Maureen Stapleton and Rochelle Oliver in the 1960-61 Broadway drama “Toys in the Attic.”

Courtesy of Everett Collection

After Tony, nominee Melinda Dillon has stopped the intense Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? after nine months – she would spend time in a psychiatric hospital – Oliver stepped into the role of Honey in the original 1963 Broadway production starring Hagen, Arthur Hill and George Grizzard.

Born on April 15, 1937 in New York City, Oliver began studying with Hagen at age 17 and appeared in a 1957 Off-Broadway production of The Brothers Karamazov. Two years later, she ended up in episodes of TV dramas Naked city And Deadline.

Later she would work on other shows such as The defenders, The doctors and the nurses, The best of everything And Ryan’s hope.

Oliver also appeared on Broadway Harold (with Anthony Perkins and Don Adams) in 1962 and in Bernard Slade’s Luckily never again in 1966 and vouched for Ellen Burstyn Same time, next yearwhich premiered in 1975, starring Polly Holliday as Big Mama Cat on a hot tin roof in 1990.

She worked with Foote on his three one-act plays The home cycle of the orphans and were filmed for public television.

Oliver taught HB’s Hagen Core Program and acted and directed on the HB Playwrights stage. Her goal as an acting teacher, she said in her teaching statement on the HB website, was to “guide students in finding their own voices as theater artists. I insist that students take the time to ask the questions, do the necessary explorations, understand the importance of processes in our work, and please don’t leave their imaginations behind in this culture of immediate answers. The fun for me is that we work together as we discover and learn.”

She was a key member of the transition council assembled by Richard Mawe to lead the school after Hagen’s death in 2004 and remained an active member of the HB board and of HB’s artistic council until 2022, HB noted.

Oliver was married to actor James Patterson (In the middle of the night) from 1959 until his death in 1972 and to Fritz Weaver (Fail safe, The day of the dolphin) from 1997 until his death in 2016.

Survivors include her son John.

“Teaching acting meant the world to Rochelle; and HB gave her the outlet and freedom she needed to get her way. Thank you to the HB Studio community of the Oliver/Paterson family,” he said.