Few actresses have the distinction of being recognized and revered worldwide for multiple iconic roles in groundbreaking television shows. Sharon Gless is one of them.
Generations of TV viewers know and love the remarkable characters brought to life by this standout multi Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress: Christine Cagney (Cagney & Lacey), Rosie O’Neill (The Trials of Rosie O’Neill), Debbie Novotny (Queer As Folk)and Madeline Westen (Burn Notice), among many others. With over four decades of indelible television, film, and stage roles to her credit, Gless continues to enchant her long time followers and captivate new fans with every appearance.
In 1972, the head of Talent at Universal Studios perceived a take-notice quality in Sharon Gless and signed her as an exclusive contract player, a coveted breakthrough opportunity for any young actress. Gless remained under contract for the next decade, until the studio ended all talent contracts in 1981. Gless was held until 1982, earmarking her as the last contract player in the history of Hollywood.
During her contract years with Universal, Gless appeared in top-rated television series including: The Rockford Files, The Bob Newhart Show, Kojack, Adam-12, and Faraday and Company. After re-occurring guest-star spots on Marcus Welby, M.D. (with 25 million weekly viewers in the 1970’s),Gless was offered the role of Kathleen Faverty, James Brolin’s intended first love interest. That one didn’t work out. Robert Young appreciated the young rising star’s talent and she was cast in two television movies to play his daughter.Gless’ career advanced when she was chosen to play Maggie Philbin, the kooky secretary, on Switch, starring Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert, for all three seasons from 1975 to 1978.
Gless took on the co-starring role in Turnabout,(1979), in which a married couple, through magic, switch bodies. Loving the cross-gender acting challenge, Gless played Penny, who had embodied her husband, Sam. Her naturally husky voice and precise comic timing led to portraying Carole Lombard in the successful mini-series Moviola:The Scarlett O’Hara Wars(1980). It was during a professional screening that television producer Barney Rosenzweig discovered Gless and entreated her to star in his upcoming TV movie project, Cagney and Lacey, but she was under contract for House Calls, costarring with Wayne Rogers.
Gless stepped in to the role of New York Police Detective Christine Cagney for the series in 1982, and Cagney and Laceymade television history as the first hour-long drama to feature two females in the leading roles, who brought public awareness to serious cultural issues for women: date rape, breast cancer, alcohol addiction, sexism in the workplace, career choices, abortion, and moral dilemma. Over 30 million American viewers watched the show every week and Gless garnered two Emmy awards for Best Lead Actress in a Drama and six total nominations, along with a Golden Globe award and six nominations during the show’s highly-rated run. After the show ended, Gless won an additional Golden Globe for her starring role in the drama series, The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, and two more Emmy nominations.
In popular demand, Gless, also costarred in a feature film with Michael Douglas, The Star Chamber, as well as telefilms: Honor Thy Mother, Hobson’s Choice, Hard Hat & Legs, Separated by Murder,and the heartbreaker, Letting Go, with John Ritter.
From 1994 to 1996, Gless reunited with TV partner Tyne Daly for a quartet of critically acclaimed Cagney & Lacey television reunion movies, The Menopause Years.
In 2000, Gless took a daring chance with a role that opened to viewers the underground lives of gay and lesbians in America, playing the outrageous and bold Debbie Novotny in Queer as Folk. Her portrayal of a devoted mother to a gay son and confidant to his gay friends in this unexpected Showtime smash series, touched countless hearts and changed the definition of family for millions of viewers. In five seasons, Gless accomplished with her brilliant interpretation of Debbie what had previously taken decades in acceptance of gay and lesbian family members.
Known for her ability to portray characters with multi-layered, startling and complex emotions, U.S.A. network cast her in their radical series, Burn Notice, (2007- 2013) as a chain-smoking persuasive woman, Madeline Westen. Gless earned her 9thEmmy nomination for work in this series. Her 10thEmmy nomination was for Guest Actress in a Drama series, portraying Colleen Rose, an ambitious Hollywood agent harboring chilling secrets on FX’s Nip / Tuckin 2008.
Recently, Gless also appeared in two independent features, Once Fallen, with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, and Hannah Free, in the title role of Hannah.
Gless became an intriguing surprise character in four episodes of The Exorciston Fox TV, sharing the screen with Geena Davis. Old and new fans celebrated her reoccurring appearances on USA TV’s The Gifted. Britain’s longest running TV drama, Casualty, created the guest star role of outspoken genius brain surgeon, Zsa-Zsa Harper-Jenkinson, for Gless in 2017. They invited her back again in 2018 to reprise the role.
Throughout her TV and film career, Gless has also acted on stage to rave reviews in various productions, debuting with Oscar-winner Kim Hunter in Watch on the Rhineat Stage West in Massachusetts. She then starred in three productions in London’s famed West End, creating the role of Annie Wilkes on stage in the adaptation of Miseryalongside Bill Paterson, for an extended run. Her comedy chops were applauded in Neil Simon’s Chapter Twowith Tom Conti, and she returned to the West End to star in Jane Prowse’s A Round-Heeled Womanin 2011-12 to standing ovations. Gless has also led the cast of Claudia Allen’s Cahoots at Victory Gardens in Chicago and appeared in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologuesat Madison Square Garden.
Gless has her star on the renowned Hollywood Walk of Fame, an award for Excellence in the Arts from DePaul University in Chicago, and has many recorded radio plays, including ‘Night, Mother, which earned her the International Sony Award.
Always the happiest when acting in a series or on screen, Gless also finds great fulfillment in lending her indomitable voice to issues involving human rights and LGBTQ causes and was honored by Norman Lear’s People for the American Way for her unwavering dedication to helping others. Gless has joined stars like Chita Rivera, Jessie Mueller, Kelli O’Hara, Billy Porter and Jane Lynch in “Concert for America: Stand up, Sing Out,” on Broadway, San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta, benefiting Planned Parenthood, NAACP, and the Sierra Club, and other worthy organizations.