Family & Companions
Emmy Award-winning television actress Judith Light enjoyed a lengthy career on the small screen for portrayals of women both scandalous and supremely capable. After an early, impressive start on the stages of Broadway, Light reluctantly took on the role of wife-by-day/prostitute-by-night, Karen Wolek, on "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968-2013) in 1977. Much to her surprise and delight, the scene-stealing character would earn her two Emmys before her departure in 1983. As memorable as her daytime role may have been, the actress would be forever connected to her next character, ad-exec Angela Bower, the uptight romantic foil to Tony Danza on the long-running sitcom "Who's The Boss?" (ABC, 1984-1992). A dedicated activist for AIDS awareness and an advocate for the LGBT community, Light's behind-the-scenes efforts were recognized when the library at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center was named in her honor in 1998. In direct contrast to her "Who's the Boss?" character, she brilliantly embodied the mentally unstable, alcoholic publishing maven Claire Meade on "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010) throughout its run before playing Shelley Pfefferman, ex-wife of late-life transgender woman Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) on the Emmy-winning comedy "Transparent" (Amazon 2014- ). Unafraid to take chances or play against type, Light amassed an impressively consistent list of credits for more than 30 years.
Born Judith Ellen Licht in Trenton, NJ on Feb. 9, 1949, Light found her calling as an actress while attending summer camp at the age of 12. In high school, her talent so impressed her drama teacher, that she was encouraged to pursue acting as a major at Carnegie Mellon University, from where she graduated in 1971. Despite a string of roles in theaters across the country and a 1974 turn on Broadway in "A Doll's House" opposite Liv Ullman and Sam Waterston, Light struggled to maintain financial security as an actress until she replaced Julia Duffy as Karen Wolek on "One Life to Life" in 1977. One of soapdom's most conniving yet oddly endearing characters, Wolek lead a double life that rivaled even the most outlandish soap storylines for sheer surrealism: by day, Wolek was the loving wife of the town doctor, but at night, she was a high-class prostitute. Light was highly praised for her performance, especially in a story arc that found her incriminating herself in order to defend her friend for the murder of her pimp, which was named by TV Guide as one of the most memorable moments on television. For her efforts, Light received two Emmy Awards in 1980 and 1981, as well as two "Soapy" Awards in 1979 and 1980. Light also met actor Robert Desiderio while on the sudser and the pair married in 1985.
Light's popularity led to an offer from ABC to star in a new primetime comedy series opposite "Taxi" (ABC/NBC, 1978-1983) star Tony Danza. The series - originally titled "You're the Boss" - became a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, and, more importantly, a ratings hit thanks to its light comedy. Also attractive to "Who's the Boss?" viewers was the good-natured banter between Light and Danza, whose characters would turn from competitors to friends and eventually romantic partners. The program also elevated Light out of her "former soap star" status, allowing her to work on other television projects, most notably "The Ryan White Story" (1989), in which she played the mother of the young AIDS patient and activist who incurred tremendous discrimination. The project, along with "Boss" co-star Danny Pintauro's revelation to her that he was gay prior to his public coming out in 1997, led Light to become a passionate campaigner for AIDS research, which she tirelessly pursued for nearly two decades. For her efforts, Light received numerous accolades, including a library named in her honor at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in 1998.
As "Who's The Boss?" drew to a close, Light landed several notable roles in TV projects, including the movie "My Boyfriend's Back" (1989), which allowed her to show off her singing talents, and "Wife, Mother, Murderer" (1991), which gave her a spectacular acting showcase in the character of a loving small-town mother who harbored three distinct and lethal personalities. After "Boss" closed up shop in 1992, Light continued to work in intriguing and often controversial TV movies; her 1993 film "Men Don't Tell" dealt with the subject of husband abuse and earned the top spot in prime time ratings, and in 1997, she played an obsessive, homicidal mother opposite Rick Schroeder in "Too Close to Home." Light also branched into producing with the 1996 TV movie "A Husband, a Wife and a Lover," in which she played the wife of a recent stroke victim who invites his lover to reside with them while he recuperates.
Light made several attempts to land another network series in the years after "Boss." First was the highly praised "Phenom" (ABC, 1993), from producer James L. Brooks. Light played the single mother of a teenage tennis prodigy, but the series failed to connect with viewers. The family series "The Simple Life" (CBS, 1998) also earned critical applause, but suffered a similar fate in the rating shuffle. The same fate befell "The Stones" (CBS, 2004), a comedy about divorcing parents (Light and Robert Klein) who continue to reside together. During this period, Light also made inroads into voice-over work for animated projects, providing voices for the cartoon series "Duckman" (USA, 1994-97), the direct-to-video feature "Joseph: King of Dreams" (2000), and an eyebrow-raising turn as herself - actually, a Tony Danza-obsessed version of herself - on "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999- ). She also earned a Lifetime Television tribute courtesy of the show "Intimate Portrait" (Lifetime, 1995- ), which focused on her career highlights and charitable work.
In 1999, Light returned to the stage in a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Wit," for which she shaved her head to play an English professor dying from cancer who uses her love of language to make sense of her condition and the world. Light had replaced actress Kathleen Chalfant and played the role for six months in New York before touring with the production for a year. The praise she earned from the play gave her entry to tackle more challenging stage parts in the following years, including a production of "Hedda Gabler" in Washington, D.C. and Athol Fugard's "Sorrows and Rejoicing" in New York and Los Angeles.
In 2002, Light began a recurring role on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) as Elizabeth Donnelly, a district attorney turned tough judge who presided over many of the cases tried by the legal half of the series' characters. In 2006, she wowed viewers of "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 2006-2010 ) by her guest appearances as the elegantly evil Claire Meade, the vengeful wife of MODE magazine publisher Bradford Meade, and the killer of the magazine's previous editor, Fey Sommers. Meade's spectacular escape from jail, where she was serving time for Sommers' murder, was one of the highlights of the first season, earning Light an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress and a Prism Award for Outstanding Actress. When the series returned in 2007, Light had joined the cast as a regular cast member.
In 2007, Light joined forces with actor and gay activist Chad Allen to produce and co-star in "Save Me," an independent drama (with a script co-written by husband Robert Desiderio) about a young man forced to join a Christian group (led by Light) in order to "cure" his homosexuality. The film earned positive reviews during its brief theatrical run. Back on the stages of Broadway for the first time in more than 30 years, Light was nominated for both a Tony and Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of Marie Lombardi, wife of the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach in the critically acclaimed production of "Lombardi" during its 2010-11 run. Not only did she repeat these nominations in 2012 and 2013 for her parts in the plays "Other Desert Cities" and "The Assembled Parties" respectively, she won both awards for each production. She also joined the cast of the well-received "Dallas" (TNT, 2012-14) television reboot in 2013. She followed this with a co-starring role in the streaming series "Transparent" (Amazon 2014- ), playing Shelley Pfefferman, a woman whose husband (Jeffrey Tambor) announces a late in life male-to-female transition.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Made professional debut in "Richard III" at the California Shakespeare Festival
Acted in repertory companies based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Seattle, Washington
Made Broadway debut in a revival of Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House"
Breakthrough role, as housewife turned prostitute Karen Wolek on the ABC soap "One Life to Live"
First TV-movie, "Intimate Agony" (ABC)
Played assertive advertising executive Angela Bower opposite Tony Danza on the popular ABC sitcom "Who's the Boss?"
Portrayed Ryan White's mother Jeanne White in "The Ryan White Story," about the 13-year-old hemophiliac who contracted AIDS
Played Dianne Doolan on the short-lived ABC sitcom "Phenom"
Made producing debut with the CBS drama "A Husband, a Wife and a Lover"'; also starred
Portrayed a suffocating mother in "Too Close to Home" opposite Rick Schroder
Filmed first feature role in the indie "Toscano"
Starred on the short-lived CBS sitcom "The Simple Life"
Returned to the NYC stage assuming the role of a cancer-stricken teacher in the Pulitzer Prize-winning off-Broadway play "Wit"
Co-starred in the off-Broadway staging of "Sorrows & Rejoicings"
Landed recurring role as a judge on the NBC drama "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Played Claire Meade, the alcoholic mother of magazine editors Daniel and Alexis Meade on ABC's "Ugly Betty"; earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Co-starred in "Ira and Abby," a comedy feature co-starring, written and produced by Jennifer Westfeldt
Cast as the famed football coach's wife in the Broadway production of Eric Simonson's "Lombardi"; earned a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
Co-starred with Rachel Griffiths, Stacy Keach, and Stockard Channing in the critically acclaimed play "Other Desert Cities" on Broadway