Australian by birth, Francis Margarnt Anderson was one of the few major 20th century leading women who did not have a successful ingenue phase at the outset of her stage career. She began acting in Adelaide, Australia, came to America during World War I at age twenty, worked in the Emma Bunting Stock Company in New York and on the circuits with little popular or critical favor. She changed her name to Judith, cultivated a more mature appearance and demeanor, and impressed New York pundits with her classically trained chops in "Cobra" opposite Louis Calhern.
During the 1930s she became the first choice serious woman lead for playwrights who aspired to create more than public entertainment. She scintillated in Eugene O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Elektra" and won international recognition as a tragedienne who never engaged in over-emoting in a scene, despite her claims to love "unleashing" her feelings in roles. Her tact playing roles as different as Medea, Madam Arkadina, and Olga suggested that tact in expression was an elegant medium for conveying emotional intensity. In this regard, she appears as a modernist reacting to the unbuttoned speaking and gesturing of Nazimova.
In the later 1930s she played with the Old Vic, performing standard dramatic repertoire. In Hollywood in the 1940s she found a fruitful niche as a supporting actress playing older women with a love of persecuting younger and weaker characters. Queen Elizabeth II named her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1960. David S. Shields/ALS