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Ada "Zoe" Caldwell, OBE (born September 14 1933) is a four-time Tony Award winning Australian-born actress who resides in America and has earned enormous respect for her work in the theatre, especially in New York.


She was born in Melbournemarker, Victoriamarker, Australia and lived in the suburb of Balwynmarker in Yongala Street. Her father, Edgar, was a plumber and her mother, Zoe, was a taxi dancer.. Zoe was always proud of her parents, being heard to boast to the "Illustrious in Society": "My Father is a Plumber!!!"

She loved her garden and used to bring a smile to the faces of many of her neighbours who would often see her prancing around her front garden, watering her plants and treating them to a full rehearsal of her latest Shakespearian role.

Zoe had a Peugeot of 1950 vintage. She would often load some of the neighbourhood kids into it to take them to the Elizabethan Theatre in Richmond where they would go backstage and watch rehearsals and performances.


She has won four Tony Awards for her performances on Broadwaymarker in Tennessee Williams' Slapstick Tragedy, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Medea and Master Class. In the last she portrayed opera diva Maria Callas. In Stratford, Ontario she has worked often, but she had an especial triumph playing the role of Cleopatra in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra opposite Christopher Plummer's Mark Antony in 1967. Her anecdotal biography (published by W W Norton and Co. in 2001), "I Will Be Cleopatra," tracks an "Actress' Journey" through many roles and three continents, and Cleopatra seems to be a culminating achievement for her. Compact, dark, and capable of great passion, Zoe has an extraordinary voice, resonant with sensuality, but she has, as well, the impeccable timing of a spot-on comic, for it was in stand-up, back in Australia when she was a girl, that she began. She emigrated to England upon being invited to join the RSC at a time when Charles Laughton was attempting Lear, and Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins, Albert Finney and Zoe herself were the spring chickens in the company. She played the naughty Bianca in the 1959 "Othello" with Paul Robeson, and then, capturing the hearts of audiences, she played the indomitable Helena opposite the British star Dame Edith Evans in an "All's Well that Ends Well". It was in this last that Zoe worked under the direction of the great Tyrone Guthrie whom she calls a "...pathfinder. He cut a path through the forest and all you had to do was follow it." Her career later brought her to America, where she was one of the original core of stellar actors under Guthrie's direction which established the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN. There she played for a number of years, in repertory, everything from Ophelia in "Hamlet" to Natasha in "Three Sisters".

Other credits (aside from the aforementioned 4 outstanding performances which won her Tony awards) include, on Broadway, Arthur Miller's The Creation of the World and Other Business in which she played Eve, a one-woman performance based on the life of Lillian Hellman and a notoriously embattled production of Macbeth in which Christopher Plummer played Macbeth and Glenda Jackson was his Lady, under Zoe's conciliatory direction. Zoe also directed, Off-Broadway, an acclaimed two-woman play created by Eileen Atkins called "Vita and Virginia," based on the epistles and romance between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Atkins played Virginia and Vanessa Redgrave played Vita. Zoe's directoral skills were also brought to bear on the well-received Broadway "Othello"" in the late 1970's which starred James Earl Jones, Christopher Plummer and Dianne Weist. Zoe helmed the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, CT, for two limited-run seasons as its Artistic Director in the mid-1980's. She has also appeared on film, most notably as an imperious dowager in Woody Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo. In 2002 she starred in Just a Kiss.

She voices the character of the Grand Councilwoman in Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" animated productions. She originated the role in the 2002 theatrical feature and has continued it through the subsequent TV series and direct-to-video releases.

Pesonal life

Zoe Caldwell was married in 1968 to Canadian-born Broadway producer Robert Whitehead, a cousin of actor Hume Cronyn. They had two sons and were married until Whitehead's death in 2002. She has not remarried. The novelist Patrick White dedicated his short story, Clay to her and Barry Humphries.


  1. Nightingale, Benedict. Her Infinite Variety, New York Times, October 21, 2001. Accessed May 27, 2008.


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