Lois Arlene Smith (née Humbert; born November 3, 1930) is an American actress. She has played supporting roles in films including East of Eden, Five Easy Pieces, Fatal Attraction, Dead Man Walking, Tumbleweeds, and The Nice Guys. In television, she has performed in series that have included The Americans, True Blood, and Desperate Housewives.
Smith also is known for her extensive work in the theatre, receiving two Tony Award nominations for originating the role of Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1990) and for the role of Halie in a revival of Buried Child in 1996. She also starred in an acclaimed Off-Broadway revival of The Trip to Bountiful in 2005 for which she received an Obie Award for Best Actress, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a Drama Desk Award. Smith is an ensemble member of Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.
She was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2007 for her outstanding contributions to the theatre. In 2013, she was given a Lifetime Achievement Obie Award for excellence in Off-Broadway performances. In her career, she has taught, directed, and written for the stage.
Smith was born Lois Arlene Humbert in Topeka, Kansas, the youngest of six children of Carrie (née Gottshalk; 1897-1982) and William Humbert (1895-1950), who worked for a telephone company. Her father died in 1950 at age 54. Her family included her two sisters, Alice and Marvelle, and three brothers, William, Dilman, and Phillip, all of whom are now deceased. Her father moved the family to Seattle when Lois was 11 years old, and he was involved heavily in the church. William would put on plays at church in which young Lois would perform. She studied theatre at the University of Washington but did not graduate. At age 18, she married Wesley Dale Smith, whom she met in college; they divorced in 1970. The couple had one daughter, Moon Elizabeth Smith.
Around 1951, Smith and her husband decided to leave Seattle and moved to New York City to begin their professional careers. After she worked with Elia Kazan on East of Eden, he encouraged her to study with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, which she did. She was also mentored in her early years in New York City by John Van Druten. In November 1955, she was featured on the cover of Life Magazine.
Smith made her television debut in 1953 on Kraft Television Theatre. In 1954, she appeared as the daughter of Mary Astor in a Studio One production. She performed on many series through the 1950s and 1960s, guest-starring on Naked City, The Doctors, Dr. Kildare, and The Defenders. In 1956, she appeared with John Cassavetes in Bring Me a Dream, a teleplay by John Vlahos, and she appeared as Felicia in Noon on Doomsday, written by Rod Serling. In 1959, she was given the lead role of Cindy in the teleplay Cindy's Fella, a modernized version of Cinderella, with James Stewart and directed by Gower Champion.
In 1960, she performed in The Master Builder as Hilda and as Julie in Miss Julie in public television specials. Also in 1960, she appeared as Lena in a teleplay based on Victory by Joseph Conrad, and in a teleplay version of Men In White by Sidney Kingsley as Barbara Dennin. She did four episodes of Route 66, and in 1967 performed in Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night on CBS Playhouse with Shirley Booth. In 1970, she performed with Kim Stanley in a television special of Tennessee Williams' plays titled Dragon Country.
In 1978, Smith played the lead role of Stacey MacAindra in the teleplay Stacey based on The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence. In 1980, she appeared in the television film The Jilting of Granny Weatherall as the daughter of Geraldine Fitzgerald, and in 1981 played Bertha in a television film version of The House of Mirth.
She played supporting roles in the Emmy-nominated TV films Rage of Angels (1983), The Execution of Raymond Graham (1985), Switched at Birth (1991) and Skylark (1993). She guest-starred on two episodes of The Equalizer and one episode of Thirtysomething in 1991.
In 1991, she portrayed Alice, the mother of Thelma Todd, in White Hot: The Mysterious Murder of Thelma Todd and in 1995 portrayed Margaret, the mother of Bess Truman in the Emmy-winning television film Truman. She guest-starred on episodes of The Practice, Frasier, Just Shoot Me!, Touched by an Angel, Cold Case and Law & Order.
In 2002, Smith appeared in The Laramie Project and in 2004 she portrayed Anna Howard Shaw in the Emmy-winning film Iron Jawed Angels. In 2007, she guest-starred on four episodes of ER and in 2009 in A Dog Year with Jeff Bridges. She played Adele Stackhouse, the grandmother of Anna Paquin's character on True Blood and played the mother-in-law of Felicity Huffman's character on Desperate Housewives.
In 2015, Smith was nominated for a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Guest Performer for her role in an episode of The Americans. In 2017 she guest starred in ‘The Gun’, episode five of the third season of the Netflix series Grace and Frankie as Mrs Hanson, the vituperative mother of Martin Sheen’s character Robert. Also in 2017, she guest starred in "In the Pink", episode 4 of season 4 of Younger, as Belinda Lacroix, a Barbara Cartland-type romance novelist.
Soap opera fans have seen Smith on daytime in many recurring and guest-starring roles over the years, first playing the psychotic wife Zoe Cannell on Somerset (1972–1974), Eleanor Conrad on The Doctors (1975–1977), Ella Fitz (the co-conspirator of evil Alma Rudder) on Another World (1982–1983), Mrs. Oakes on The Edge of Night (1983), Elwinna Pendergast on All My Children and as Dorian's imperious aunt Betsy Cramer on One Life to Live (2003–2004).
Smith made her Broadway debut in 1952 at age 22 in the play Time Out for Ginger as Joan, with Nancy Malone as Ginger and Melvyn Douglas as their father. She followed this in 1955 with The Wisteria Trees, a play that starred Helen Hayes. In 1956, she performed with Helen Hayes in The Glass Menagerie. Also in 1955, she was given the lead role of Josephine Perry in Sally Benson's play The Young and Beautiful, which ran for 65 performances at the Longacre Theatre.
In 1957, Smith originated the role of Carol Cutrere in Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, which also starred Maureen Stapleton. In 1958, she was directed by José Ferrer in Edwin Booth.
In 1973, she returned to Broadway to appear in a revival of The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O'Neill. In 1975, she performed the role of Gaby in the play Harry Outside by Corinne Jacker. She also played the lead female role in the play Touching Bottoms by Steve Tesich in 1978. In 1979, she played the role of Denise in the play Hillbilly Women by Elizabeth Stearns at the Long Wharf Theatre. In 1987, she played Jessie Bliss in The Stick Wife by Darrah Cloud with the Hartford Stage Company.
In 1988, Smith was cast with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago as Ma Joad in the play The Grapes of Wrath, an adaptation of the 1939 Steinbeck novel. Smith originated the stage role, and after going on tour, the production reached Broadway in 1990 and Smith earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play.
Also in 1988, Smith originated the role of Mrs. Campbell in The Man Who Climbed the Pecan Trees by Horton Foote. In 1989, she performed in an Off-Broadway production of Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare in the role of Mistress Overdone.
In 1995, Smith starred as Halie in a revival of Buried Child by Sam Shepard at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company which transferred to Broadway in 1996, and for which she received her second nomination for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. In 1997, Smith played the role of Betty in Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson Off-Broadway. In 1998, she played the role of Kandall Kingsley in Impossible Marriage by Beth Henley. In 2001, she starred in the title role of Mother Courage and Her Children, and in 2002 she starred in a revival of The Royal Family as Fanny Cavendish, both plays with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
In 2005, Smith starred in an Off-Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful as Carrie Watts with the Signature Theatre Company for which she received an Obie Award for Best Actress, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Lucille Lortel Award, and a Drama Desk Award.
In 2010, she performed the role of Vera in After the Revolution by Amy Herzog for which she was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award. In 2012 she originated the role of Mable Murphy in the play Heartless by Sam Shepard, and in 2013, she starred in a revival of My Old Friends by Horton Foote. In 2014, she starred in a new play by Jordan Harrison titled Marjorie Prime, originating the title role of Marjorie at the Mark Taper Forum. She is featured in the new play by Annie Baker, John, which opened Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre Company on July 22, 2015 and ran to September 6.
From 1965 to 1967, Smith starred in several plays as a company member with the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philadelphia with Andre Gregory. She has been an ensemble member of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company since 1993. She previously was a company member with the Studio Ensemble Theatre with Curt Dempster.
In 2018 she took on the leading role in Peace for Mary Frances by Brooklyn College student Lily Thorne. The drama, directed by Lila Neugebauer, was given its world premiere by off-Broadway's The New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York. Although Smith performance was praised, the play received negative reviews from a variety of outlets from The New York Times to The Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap.
Smith made her film debut in 1955 directed by Elia Kazan in East of Eden with James Dean, Julie Harris, and Jo Van Fleet. Her next film was the western Strange Lady in Town. Smith then focused on television work, not making a film until The Way We Live Now in 1970. She then earned critical acclaim for her role as Partita Dupea, the sister of Jack Nicholson's character in Five Easy Pieces (1970), and Smith won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Supporting roles in films in the 1970s and 1980s included Up the Sandbox, Next Stop, Greenwich Village, Resurrection, Foxes, Four Friends, Reuben, Reuben, Reckless, Black Widow, Fatal Attraction, and Midnight Run.
Supporting roles in the 1990s and 2000s included Green Card, Fried Green Tomatoes, How to Make an American Quilt, Falling Down, Holy Matrimony, Dead Man Walking, Twister, Tumbleweeds, The Pledge, Minority Report, P.S., Sweet Land, Hollywoodland, and Killshot.
In the 2010s, Smith played supporting roles in Please Give, The Nice Guys, The Comedian, the documentary The Gettysburg Address, and Lady Bird.
For her role in Marjorie Prime, Smith won the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 22nd ceremony. She was also nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 44th ceremony.