Linda Lavin Biography

Television Actress, Theater Actress, Film Actress, Singer (1937–)
Award-winning actress Linda Lavin rose to fame on such 1970s' sitcoms as 'Barney Miller' and ‘Alice’ and has received accolades for her stage work through the decades.


Linda Lavin was born in Portland, Maine, in 1937. She studied theater at the College of William and Mary before landing in New York to pursue a career in acting. Starting out in musicals and plays, Lavin transitioned to TV in the 1970s, and in 1976 she landed the role of a lifetime as the title character on the sitcom Alice. Lavin became a household name and the series ran for nine seasons. with both actress and show winning Golden Globes. Lavin later appeared in made-for-TV and theatrical movies as well as on additional TV series such as Room for TwoSean Saves the World and The Good Wife. The Tony Award-winning actress has stayed highly active in the theater as well with starring roles in productions like Broadway Bound, GypsyHollywood Arms and Collected Stories.

Background and Early Career

Linda Lavin was born on October 15, 1937, in Portland, Maine, to a businessman father and opera singer mother. Lavin hit the stage for the first time around age 5, and she sang and danced throughout her childhood. After she graduated from high school, Lavin headed off to Virginia to attend the College of William and Mary, where she studied theater. She left Virginia and eventually ended up in New York in the late 1950s, where she soon found work singing in the choruses of several musicals.

Lavin finally broke through to speaking roles, and her early work includes appearances in such plays as Oh, Kay! (1960) and A Family Affair (1962), making her Broadway debut with the latter. With It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman (1966), she landed on the radar of critics, and the touring production of On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever (1966) brought her yet more attention. She rounded out the 1960s with acclaimed non-musical performances, notably in the Off-Broadway revival of Little Murders, for which she received a Drama Desk Award, Cop-Out and Last of the Red Hot Lovers (all in 1969), for which she earned her first Tony nomination. Around this time she also appeared in her first TV movie, Damn Yankees! (1967).

Star of Alice

As the decade transitioned, so did Lavin’s career. She appeared in a string of TV movies, including The Morning After (1974) and Jerry (1974) before settling into series work. Her first recurring role was as Detective Janice Wentworth for the 197576 season of the hit sitcom Barney Miller. While that role didn’t last, it led right into one that put her on the TV-history map.

Based on the 1974 Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the sitcom Alice debuted in 1976, with Lavin appearing in the title role. (She also sang the show’s empowering theme song, “There’s a New Girl in Town”). As the mother/waitress at the heart of the popular show, Lavin was soon a household name and a bona fide television star. Alice ran for nine seasons, and along the way Lavin was honored with an Emmy nomination and two Golden Globe wins.

Alice cast 600x700

Cast photo of the waitresses at Mel's Diner from the television program Alice. From left: Beth Howland as Vera, Linda Lavin as Alice, and Polly Holliday as Flo. (Photo: CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Continued Screen Appearances

When Alice went off the air in 1985, Lavin took on several movie roles, both on TV and on the big screen, among them Maricela (1986), A Place to Call Home (1987), See You in the Morning (1989) and I Want to Go Home (1989). A couple of series roles came around in the 1990s, Room for Two (199293) and Conrad Bloom (1998), but neither had lasting power.

Lavin continued to appear on the small screen on such shows as Touched by an Angel, The Sopranos and Bob’s Burgers before landing another series, Sean Saves the World, which only lasted a season (201314). Nonetheless, she later guest starred in popular shows like The Good Wife, Bones and Mom.

Tony-Winning Stage Work

When not busy on TV, Lavin has continued to be a major force on the stage, winning her first Tony Award as Kate, the mother of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound. Lavin next starred as Mama Rose in the 1989 revival of Gypsy, followed by her turn as Gorgeous Teitelbaum in 1993's The Sisters Rosensweig

Other Broadway project have included The Diary of Anne Frank (1997), The Tale of the Allergist's Wife (2000), The Lyons (2012) and Our Mother's Brief Affair (2016). Lavin has been nominated for six Tonys as of 2016 and has also continued to appear in Off-Broadway fare like Death Defying Acts (1995) and Other Desert Cities (2011), receiving a Drama Desk Award for the latter.   

In 2013, Lavin and third husband Steve Bakunas founded the Red Barn Studio, a small community theater in Wilmington, North Carolina, where they both act and direct.

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