Towers in 1960
|Alma mater||Juilliard School|
|Height||5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)|
(m. 1959; div. 1966)
(m. 1974; died 2018)
Constance Mary Towers (born May 20, 1933) is an American film, stage, and television actress, and singer. She gained prominence for her appearances in several mainstream 1950s films before transitioning to theater, starring in numerous Broadway productions through the 1970s. Her accolades include two Emmy Award nominations.
A native of Montana, Towers began her career doing radio plays as a child in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to New York City where she studied music at the Juilliard School. She made her film debut in the Technicolor comedy picture Bring Your Smile Along (1955) by Blake Edwards before earning recognition for her roles in John Ford's civil war film The Horse Soldiers (1959) and western Sergeant Rutledge (1960). She later appeared in two roles in Samuel Fuller's hard-edged experimental thrillers Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964).
Beginning in 1965, Towers embarked on a career in theater, making her Broadway debut in the musical Anya, opposite Lillian Gish, followed by a 1966 production of Show Boat at Lincoln Center. Towers starred in four other Broadway productions throughout the 1970s, most notably as Anna in The King and I in 1977 and 1978. Her later career largely has been based in television, with roles as matriarch Clarissa McCandless on the daytime drama Capitol from 1982 to 1987, and the villainous Helena Cassadine on General Hospital, which she began portraying in 1997.
Towers was born May 20, 1933 in Whitefish, Montana, one of two daughters born to Ardath L. (née Reynolds) and Harry J. Towers, a pharmacist. Her mother, originally from Nebraska, was of Irish descent, while her father was an Ireland native from Dublin who immigrated to the United States through Philadelphia. Towers' family relocated throughout western Montana in her early childhood, living in Whitefish, Missoula, and Kalispell, as well as in Moscow, Idaho.
In 1940, when Towers was in first grade, she was discovered by talent scouts visiting Montana in search of child actors for radio programs. Towers's family subsequently relocated to Seattle, Washington, and she began working as a child voice actress in Pacific Northwest-based radio programs over the following three years. According to her official website, Towers was offered a contract with Paramount Pictures at age 11, but the offer was declined by her parents. At age 12, she worked at a small local movie theater in her hometown of Whitefish.
In her adolescence, her family relocated to New York City after her father took a job there as an executive vice president for a pharmaceutical company. There she attended the Juilliard School, studying music, and American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She studied singing with well known voice teacher Beverley Peck Johnson.
1955–1964: Early film work
While attending Juilliard, Towers was discovered by a film agent. "I was very lucky," Towers recalled. "An agent saw me and believed in me and we were walking down Fifth Avenue and the manager of the St. Regis Hotel asked if I could sing. My agent told him yes and he asked if I could open in three weeks. I learned a series of songs, put on a dress, sang to the critics and got good reviews. That night a casting man from Columbia Pictures saw me and flew me to L.A. to meet with Harry Cohn, president of Columbia. They had me read with Jack Lemmon, then signed me to a contract."
Towers made her film debut in a supporting part in the film Bring Your Smile Along (1955), followed by a supporting part in the crime thriller Over-Exposed (1956). Standing at 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m), Towers initially struggled to obtain leading film roles due to her height. In 1958, she was cast in her first leading role as Hannah Hunter in John Ford's civil war film The Horse Soldiers (1959) opposite John Wayne and William Holden. The following year, she appeared in Ford's follow-up film Sergeant Rutledge (1960), a racially themed crime Western.
In 1963, Towers was cast in a supporting role in Samuel Fuller's experimental thriller Shock Corridor (1963), which tells the story of a journalist who commits himself to a psychiatric hospital to solve a murder. Her role as a stripper in the film was described by The New York Times as "hard, driving and realistic." In preparation for the role, Towers spent time at exotic dance clubs in Los Angeles.
Fuller cast Towers again in a lead role in his following film The Naked Kiss (1964), another lurid and hard-edged thriller, in which she plays a crazed prostitute who attempts to assimilate in suburbia after having battered her pimp. The film received some critical acclaim: Eugene Archer of The New York Times commented: "Patently absurd as the plot may be, Mr. Fuller has filmed it with flair, and he has drawn a richly amusing performance from Miss Towers. Between his stylish handling of sensational nonsense and Mr. Marton's turgid floundering around a serious theme, Mr. Fuller's wild little movie has a decided edge."
The same year, Towers appeared in the thriller Fate Is the Hunter, which chronicles the investigation of an airline crash. She also worked as a model for the Heart Fund Benefit at a fashion show held in Reno, Nevada. Between 1961 and 1965, she had five guest roles on the series Perry Mason; In her first two appearances she played the murderer: Jonny Baker in "The Case of the Missing Melody" (1961) and Esther Metcalfe in "The Case of the Prankish Professor" (1963).
1965–1990: Theater career
Towers appeared as Julie in a 1966 production of Show Boat at Lincoln Center. She also starred in Carousel in 1966 and The Sound of Music in 1967, which she would reprise in 1970, 1971 and 1980 at the Jones Beach Theater in Long Island, New York.
She briefly played Anna Leonowens in 1968, and later she played opposite Yul Brynner in a long-running revival of The King and I on tour and then on Broadway (1976–1978). Clive Barnes praised Towers in the role, and theatre writer John Kenrick calls her performance on the 1977 cast album "great."
From the mid-1960s until the 1990s, Towers' career was primarily focused on theater, though she did appear in films occasionally. She starred in the 1974 television film Once in Her Life, which earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Special Program. She also appeared on television, playing Marian Hiller, the wife of Dr. Sanford Hiller in Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1971–72).
She had a starring role as noble widow Clarissa McCandless in Capitol (1982–87, the show's entire run), playing rival to the scheming matriarch Myrna Clegg (Carolyn Jones, Marla Adams, Marj Dusay) in trying to see her son succeed in politics and the long-term love of powerful Senator Mark Denning (Ed Nelson). A memorable storyline had her being shot by Mark's mentally ill wife Paula (Julie Adams) and later finding out that her husband Baxter (Ron Harper) was still alive. For this part, she received a Soap Opera Digest Nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
1991–present: Television; General Hospital
Towers had a supporting part in the film The Next Karate Kid (1994) and appeared on television as John Abbott's former secretary, Audrey North, on The Young and the Restless (1996). She later played Madame Julianna Deschanel on Sunset Beach (1997). In 1998, Towers had supporting parts in the horror film The Relic (1998), and the thriller A Perfect Murder (1998), playing the mother of Gwyneth Paltrow's character.
Towers' best-known soap part is as villainous Helena Cassadine on General Hospital which she began playing late in 1997, continuing until her character was killed off in 2015, but made guest appearances in 2016, 2017, 2019 and most recently February 2020. In October 2020, though Towers didn't actually appear on-screen, she briefly reprised the role of Helena through a phone call.
Towers guest-starred in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Forsaken" in 1993. She also appeared in Designing Women, Frasier, Baywatch and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Other television roles include State Trooper, Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files, L.A. Law, The 4400, and Cold Case.
In 2008, Towers starred in the Los Angeles revival of Arthur Allan Seidelman's production of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks; the play premiered at the Geffen Playhouse in 2001 with Uta Hagen and David Hyde Pierce in the two roles.
Towers was first married to Eugene McGrath from 1959 until their divorce in 1966. In 1974, she married actor and former ambassador to Mexico John Gavin. She has two children from her first marriage. She also has two stepchildren from her marriage to Gavin. Gavin died on February 9, 2018, aged 86.
|1955||Bring Your Smile Along||Nancy Willows||Blake Edwards|
|1956||Over-Exposed||Shirley Thomas||Lewis Seiler|
|1959||The Horse Soldiers||Miss Hannah Hunter of Greenbriar||John Ford|
|1960||Sergeant Rutledge||Mary Beecher||John Ford|
|1963||Shock Corridor||Cathy||Samuel Fuller|
|1964||Fate Is the Hunter||Peg Burke||Ralph Nelson|
|1964||The Naked Kiss||Kelly||Samuel Fuller|
|1974||Once in Her Life||Joan Baldwin||Peter Levin||Television film
Nominated – Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Special Program
|1985||Fast Forward||Jessie Granger||Sidney Poitier|
|1991||Memories of Midnight||Sister Larissa||Gary Nelson||Television film|
|1992||The Nutt House||Mrs. Henderson||Adam Rifkin|
|1992||The Sands of Time||Sister Larissa||Gary Nelson||Television film|
|1994||The Next Karate Kid||Louisa Pierce||Christopher Cain|
|1995||Thunder in Paradise 3||Cavanna||Douglas Schwartz|
|1997||The Relic||Mrs. Blaisedale||Peter Hyams|
|1998||A Perfect Murder||Sandra Bradford||Andrew Davis|
|2008||The Awakening of Spring||Mrs. Gable||Arthur Allan Seidelman|
|2013||A Fuller Life||Herself||Samantha Fuller||Documentary|
|2015||Aghápe||Mature Leean||Radick Cembrzynski||Short film|
|2017||The Storyteller||Rosemary||Joe Crump|
|1952||Tales of Tomorrow||Martha||Episode: "Seeing-Eye Surgeon"|
|1957||State Trooper||Doris Woodley||Episode: "Beef ala Murder"|
|1958||Mike Hammer||Jean Barr||Episode: "Overdose of Lead"|
|1957–1958||The Bob Cummings Show||Patricia Plumber||Episodes: "Bob Gives Psychology Lessons" and "Bob's Forgotten Fiancée"|
|1960||Adventures in Paradise||Laura Knight||Episode: "Sink or Swim"|
|1961||Zane Grey Theater||Beth Woodfield||Episode: "Knight of the Sun"|
|1964||The Outer Limits||Laura James||Episode: "The Duplicate Man"|
|1965||Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre||Louise Menke||Episode: "Exit from a Plane in Flight"|
|1961–1965||Perry Mason||Various roles||5 episodes|
|1971–1972||Love Is a Many Splendored Thing||Marian Hiller||Series regular|
|1975||Hawaii Five-O||Mrs. Thorncrest||Episode: "Death's Name Is Sam"|
|1977||Lanigan's Rabbi||Vinnie Barcas||Episode: "In Hot Weather, the Crime Rate Soars"|
|1979||The Rockford Files||IRS Agent Sally Sternhagen||Episode: "The Big Cheese"|
|1979||Fantasy Island||Shirley Forbush||Episode: "Hit Man/The Swimmer"|
|1981||Fantasy Island||Maggie Dunphy||Episode: "Perfect Husband, The/Volcano"|
|1982–1987||Capitol||Clarissa McCandless||Series regular|
|1986||On Wings of Eagles||Margot Perot||Miniseries|
|1987||Murder, She Wrote||Margaret Witworth||Episode: "Murder, She Spoke"|
|1988||The Loner||Kate Shane||Pilot|
|1987–1988||L.A. Law||Charlotte Kelsey||Episodes: "Rohner vs. Gradinger" and "Full Marital Jacket"|
|1989||MacGyver||Francine Leyland||Episode: "Ma Dalton"|
|1989||Midnight Caller||Teresa Chandler||Episode: "Blood Red"|
|1990||Designing Women||Louise Pollard||Episode: "The Mistress"|
|1991||Matlock||Alice Windemere||Episode: "The Suspect"|
|1992||Baywatch||Maggie James||Episode: "Sea of Flames"|
|1992||2000 Malibu Road||Camilla O'Keefe||Series regular, 6 episodes|
|1992||Civil Wars||Harriet Guilford||Episode: "Das Boat House"|
|1993||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine||Taxco||Episode: "The Forsaken"|
|1994||Frasier||Clarice Warner||Episode: "Slow Tango in South Seattle"|
|1994||Thunder in Paradise||Cavanna||Episodes: "Deadly Lessons: Part 1" and "Deadly Lessons: Part 2"|
|1994||Silk Stalkings||Karen Krane||Episode: "Ask the Dust"|
|1995||Caroline in the City||Barbara||Episode: "Caroline and the Folks"|
|1995||High Society||Boatie||Episode: "Tomb with a View"|
|1996||The Young and the Restless||Audrey North||Recurring role|
|1997||Sunset Beach||Madame Julianna Deschanel||Recurring role, 9 episodes|
||General Hospital||Helena Cassadine||Series regular (1997–2002), Recurring guest star (2003—2017)|
Nominated: Daytime Emmy Award for America's Favorite Villain (2002)
|1998||Kelly Kelly||Kate||Episode: "The Kilt Show"|
|2000||Providence||Candice Whitman||Episode: "Syd in Wonderland"|
|2006||Criminal Minds||Deb Mason||Episode: "Riding the Lightning"|
|2007||The 4400||Audrey Parker||Episode: "Audrey Parker's Come and Gone"|
|2009||Cold Case||Caroline Kemp||Episode: "Libertyville"|
|2013||1600 Penn||Bunny Thoroughgood||Episode: "So You Don't Want to Dance"|
|2014||Men at Work||Mary||Episode: "Suburban Gibbs"|
|2016||11.22.63||Old Sadie Dunhill||Episode: "The Day in Question"|
|1960–1961||Guys and Dolls||Sarah Brown||Civic Light Opera Company, Los Angeles, California|||
|1962–1964||Camelot||Guenevere||U.S. touring production|||
|1965||Anya||Anya||Ziegfeld Theatre, New York City|||
|1966||Show Boat||Julie||New York State Theatre, New York City|||
|1966||Carousel||Julie Jordan||City Center Theater, New York City|||
|1967–1968||The Sound of Music||Maria Rainer||City Center Theater, New York City|||
|1967||Dumas and Son||Marie||Los Angeles Civic Light Opera|||
|1968||The King and I||Anna Leonowens||City Center Theatre, New York City|||
|1970||The Engagement Baby||Vivian Whitney||Helen Hayes Theatre, New York City|||
|1971||Ari||Kitty Fremont||Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York City|||
|1972||The King and I||Anna Leonowens||Jones Beach Theater, Long Island|||
|1972||I Do! I Do!||Agnes||Chateau de Ville, Saugus, Massachusetts|||
|1973||The King and I||Anna Leonowens||State Fair Music Hall, Dallas, Texas|||
|1973||My Fair Lady||Eliza Doolittle||Indianapolis, Indiana|||
|1973||The Desperate Hours||Eleanor Hilliard||Arlington Park, Illinois|||
|1974||Oh Coward!||Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Connecticut|||
|1977–1979||The King and I||Anna Leonowens||Uris Theatre, New York City|||
|1980||The Sound of Music||Maria Rainer||Jones Beach Theater, Long Island|||
|1991||The Speed of Darkness||N/A||Associate producer
Belasco Theatre, New York City
|1995||Follies||Phyllis Stone||Theatre Under the Stars, Houston, Texas
5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle, Washington
|1998||Something Wonderful||McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, California|||
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