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Frances Sternhagen in ‘Cheers’ with John Ratzenberger.

Mr. Movie: Frances Sternhagen

Frances Sternhagen left us recently at 93. What a showbiz career she had!  


She won two Emmys for Cheers and once for Sex and the City. She was nominated seven times for the Tony, and won twice, for The Heiress and The Good Doctor. She has well over 100 listing for movies and TV roles. If you Google her, you will be nodding in recognition at her picture. Her movie resume’ is outstanding.


In the poignant, often funny, Up The Down Staircase (1967), she has a nice turn as the school librarian. The title comes from students being written up by the assistant principal for going the wrong way on the stairs! Sandy Dennis is the star, a newly minted teacher in a tough big city school. The administrative quagmire and the disruptive students haven’t improved much in the intervening 50-plus years!


Outland (1981) is a good sci-fi film set on Jupiter’s moon Io. A colony of workers mine lithium in this difficult environment. O’Neil 
(Sean Connery) is one of the few good guys when there is a worker’s deadly revolt. Sternhagen plays Dr. Lazarus, the outpost scientist. She helps O’Neil overcome the attack of the bad guys in ingenious ways.


Landfall (2001) features Frances as Emily, a courageous indomi-table woman who has lived through two of Florida’s worst disasters: The 1935 Labor Day hurricane and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. These are, of course, real events. It’s a star turn for Sternhagen. The recreation of the storms is inter-mixed with actual footage and is truly scary. Of course, Florida has had hurricanes since 1992 that are just as bad or worse, but that doesn’t detract from this good film. 


Julie and Julia (2009) is a real charmer. Meryl Streep appears as Julia Child, who defied French sexism, went to cooking school, wrote Mastering The Art of French Cooking and became a TV personality. The book contains dozens of recipes, most of them quite com-plicated. Never mind. Julie (Amy Adams) lives in New York City in a tiny apartment with a tiny stove. She decides that she will make every recipe in the Child book during the course of a year. Sternhagen appears (briefly) as Erma Rombauer, the author of another iconic cookbook, The Joy Of Cooking. She sees both Julia and Julie as interlopers into her her domain. Fortunately, both of them ignored her. This delightful film is based on the book of the same name, and yes, this actually happened. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor. And oh, yes, by all means read the book! 


All of the movies in this article are for adults. While there’s nothing harmful about the first and last, I don’t think kids would really enjoy them. 


Rusty Hammond, a former judge, has been watching, studying and reviewing movies for various publications.