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Sharon Gless

Sharon Gless, August 1991
Born Sharon Marguerite Gless
May 31, 1943 (1943-05-31) (age 66)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1971–present
Spouse(s) Barney Rosenzweig (1991–present)
Official website

Sharon Marguerite Gless (born May 31, 1943) is an American character actress of stage, film and television, who is best known for her roles as Maggie Philbin on Switch (1975-1978), as Sgt. Christine Cagney in the police procedural drama series Cagney & Lacey (1982–1988) and as Debbie Novotny in the Showtime cable television series Queer as Folk (2000–2005). She is an Emmy Award winner currently playing Madeline Westen on Burn Notice. She plays Jane Juska in A Round-Heeled Woman, a stage adaptation by Jane Prowse, which opens in San Francisco in 2010.


Early life and career

A fifth-generation Californian, Sharon Gless was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Marjorie McCarthy and sportswear manufacturing executive, Dennis J. Gless. Her maternal grandfather was Neil McCarthy, a prominent Los Angeles attorney for Howard Hughes who also had a large clientele of major film studio executives and actors. Wanting to become an actress, she sought her grandfather's advice and he told her: "It's a filthy business. You stay out of it" but a few years later when she spoke to him again about acting he encouraged her, and gave her money for acting class. [1] [2] She worked as a secretary for the advertising agencies Grey Advertising and Young & Rubicam, and then for the independent movie production companies Sassafras Films and General Film Corporation. After deciding to switch to acting, Gless took classes and in 1974 signed a 10-year contract with Universal Studios. She has described herself as the last of the studio contract players — a salaried, Old Hollywood apprentice system which Universal was the last to employ”.


At the beginning of her career, Gless appeared in numerous television series and TV movies, such as Revenge of the Stepford Wives, Faraday and Company with Dan Daily and James Naughton (1973–1974) and Emergency! She played some smaller parts in Marcus Welby, M.D. (1969–1976), until being offered the role of Kathleen Faverty, a part she played from 1974 to 1976. All of this was in-between receiving a variety of guest-starring roles on television, while offering the part of the classy young secretary, Maggie Philbin, opposite Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner on the CBS private detective/con artist series Switch (1975–1978), which was her first long-running TV series in her long career. Despite being a newcomer on the show, both on- and off- the screen, she got along very well with both Albert & Wagner, as she mirrored into her own life away from the set. When that show was canceled, after the third season, she thanked both Albert & Wagner for giving her a jump start to her career.

When she was currently under contract with Universal, she co-starred with John Schuck in the 1979 television sitcom, Turnabout (based on the Thorne Smith 1931 novel about a husband and wife who temporarily switch bodies), which didn't received a ratings blockbuster.

Beginning with the series' second episode, Gless replaced actress Meg Foster in the role of NYPD police detective Christine Cagney on Cagney & Lacey. In 1991, she married the series' executive producer, Barney Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig created the 1990–1992 CBS drama series The Trials of Rosie O'Neill for Gless and, uncredited, played the only partially seen psychiatrist to whom attorney O'Neill confided at the beginning of each episode. Gless, who had garnered five Emmy nominations – including two wins and a Golden Globe win for her role as Cagney – earned two additional Emmy nominations for this subsequent series.

In 1994 and 1995, Gless and her television partner, Tyne Daly, joined together to recreate their title roles in a quartet of critically acclaimed and popular Cagney & Lacey television movies which they called “The Menopause Years”. Other television series in which she starred include Switch, House Calls, and the short-lived, but critically lauded Steven Bochco half-hour, Turnabout.

In 1998, Gless narrated the documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. Between 2000 and 2005, Gless appeared as Hal Sparks's supportive and somewhat overbearing mother, Debbie Novotny, in the acclaimed Showtime cable television series Queer as Folk.

In 2000, she was on an episode of Touched by an Angel entitled "The Perfect Game".

On May 26, 2005, Gless was one of the mourners at Eddie Albert's funeral, along with ex-Switch co-stars Robert Wagner and Charlie Callas. In 2006, Gless starred in the BBC television series The State Within. The following year she co-starred in the USA Network cable television series Burn Notice, playing Michael Westen's (Jeffrey Donovan) mother, Madeline Westen. In addition, Gless was a guest star on several episodes of the FX Network cable television series Nip/Tuck as an unstable agent named Colleen Rose, a role that netted her an Emmy Award nomination.

In 2009, Gless starred in her first leading role as a lesbian character in the independent film Hannah Free (Ripe Fruit Films), described as a film about a lifelong love affair between an independent spirit and the woman she calls home. (Synopsis: Hannah [Gless] and Rachel grew up as little girls in the same small Midwest town, where traditional gender expectations eventually challenge their deep love for one another. Hannah becomes an adventurous, unapologetic lesbian, and Rachel a strong but quiet homemaker. Weaving back and forth between past and present, the film reveals how the women maintained their love affair despite a marriage, a world war, infidelities, and family denial.) The film is based on a screenplay by the Jeff Award-winning playwright Claudia Allen and directed by Wendy Jo Carlton. In 2010, she stars in a stage adaptation of Jane Juska's A Round-Heeled Woman [1].


Gless made her stage debut in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine at Stage West in Springfield, Massachusetts. Gless has extensive stage experience including two appearances in London's West End, first in 1993 with Bill Paterson, when she created the role of Annie Wilkes in the stage version of Stephen King's Misery at the Criterion Theatre, and then in 1996, where she appeared opposite Tom Conti in Neil Simon's Chapter 2, at the Gielgud Theatre. She recently starred at Chicago playhouse The Victory Gardens Theater in Claudia Allen's Cahoots, as well as several stints, including an evening at Madison Square Garden with the National Company of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues.

Opening in January 2010, Gless will star in A Round-Heeled Woman, Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: my Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance, at Z Space at Artaud, San Francisco, USA.


Sharon Gless announced, shyly, on the 2007 Queer As Folk Reunion Luncheon that she is writing a book – presumably an autobiography – about, among other things, her time on QAF and alluded to it not being published until after she is “gone”.

Awards and honors

  • 1985: Q Award for ‘Best Actress in a Quality Drama Series’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1986: Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series' for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1986: Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Drama’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1986: Q Award for ‘Best Actress in a Quality Drama Series’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1987: Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1987: Q Award for ‘Best Actress in a Quality Drama Series’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1988: Q Award for ‘Best Actress in a Quality Drama Series’ for Cagney & Lacey
  • 1991: Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series - Drama’ for The Trials of Rosie O'Neill; tied with Patricia Wettig for Thirtysomething
  • 1995: Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (for television) at 7065 Hollywood Blvd.
  • 2008: Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series’ for Nip/Tuck (Nominated)


External links

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