When Jill Andre smiles and calls herself “oatmeal,” well, she means it in the nicest way possible. It’s her humble, self-effacing way of describing her own versatility as an actor. When you consider that for 60+ years audiences have been eating up her performances, from appearing in Children of a Lesser God on Broadway to playing Pugsley’s school teacher on the Addams Family, it’s truly a remarkable career. As Jill says with a smile, “They like me because they can dress me up or down in a lot of different ways.” Apparently.
To list her credits would pretty much take most of the Show, so let’s start with a few highlights. She has guest starred on the popular ABC-TV show Castle, playing Lenanne Wellesley. Her film and television credits include The Master, Runaways, Twin Falls, Idaho, Ghosts of Mississippi, Lost in America, The Practice, NYPD Blue and Picket Fences.
Her work on Broadway and Off Broadway includes The Great White Hope and The Trip Back Down. And if that weren’t enough, Jill is also an accomplished producer and director, having co-founded the American Renaissance Theatre where she has produced numerous new works. In Los Angeles, she directed Bodies Unbound, which also played at the Edinburgh Festival, Trust, Comings and Goings, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, which she co-directed with Dorothy Lyman, and many more. In New York she directed Bus Stop, The Last Sortie, Navajo Memoirs, Easter Weekend, Nightgames, Chicago Impulse and Baby Grand.
And yet, even after all that, Jill still considers herself a journeyman actor.
Born in New York City in 1935, show business is in her blood. Her mom, Ellen Lowe, was an actress,appearing in Citizen Kane (as the one woman on the newspaper staff you can actually see). Her dad was a director and stage manager, working a lot of Broadway musicals. Her uncle started the Cleveland Playhouse, which is where her parents met. Her cousin was married to the acclaimed actor John Marley. And the tradition continues; Jill’s daughter is a talent manager with her own company Symmetry Entertainment, her son a film director, most recently working on CNN’s Heroes and with a couple features to his credit.
As a young girl, Jill’s family moved out to Santa Monica, where they remained until a friend of her Mom’s, the wonderful actress Mildred Dunnock – who was the wife in Death of a Salesman – mentioned that a new public school was starting in New York City called the High School of the Performing Arts. Jill jumped at the opportunity, flew back to New York and auditioned in 1949. She got in. Jill stayed with Mildred, and it took another year for her family to move East to join her. “There I was,” Jill remembers fondly, “fourteen years old and on my own in New York City. It was grand!”
Jill recalls, “The first day I went into Performing Arts, I didn’t really know the building very well, and of course I didn’t know any of the kids. I went up to the first floor and started looking around trying to find the right classroom. I opened the door to what I thought was my class, and there was nobody inside except one kid, who was sitting at the teacher’s spot with his feet propped up on the desk. I told him I was basically lost, and he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, you want to go to that room down the hall … and I’ll see you later.” I thought, hmmm. He’ll see me later. Okay.” Jill pauses, then smiles. “Later, he turns out to be my acting teacher, and he was Sidney Lumet. He was barely twenty-five and he was teaching and he wasn’t Sidney Lumet yet.”
After high school and some courses at Columbia, Jill started to send her picture and resumé out looking for acting work. Lo and behold she got a call from a booking agent, who sounds like a classic. Jill tells us, “He said, ‘Hey honey, you want to go to the Dominican Republic?’ And I said, “uh … well, what do you mean? He said, ‘Well, you’re a dancer aren’t you?’ ‘Yes, I’ve danced in summer stock.’ He said, “Well, they’re having auditions.” And you know, he gives me the whole routine and he said, ‘How are your legs?’ I said, “I suppose they’re okay.” So, he sent me over to an audition, on 8th Avenue somewhere, a big hotel ballroom and there are thousands of people waiting to audition. It turns out that Harold Minsky, Jr. (from the Minsky family, famous for the early days of burlesque) was organizing a show for the huge International Trade Fair. And, of course, I’m like, “Yeah, sure! I’ll go anywhere I can go.”
Well, Jill got the gig, joining a troop of dancers who would work at the Fair’s enormous private casino. There, on a stage surrounded by fountains, she and the other dancers worked with a parade of big names from the entertainment world, including the legendary Señor Wences. “A darling, wonderful man,” Jill says.
Upon her return to New York, Jill’s career started rolling. She got a job in summer stock doing Bus Stop, which would be the first of many stock stints. Again, fortune was with her. The stage manager ended up taking the whole crew to Rome, where they did several productions in a small theatre while living in a pensione on the Tiber River. She was there for a year. Jill remembers, “My leading man was Wyatt Cooper, and we adored each other. Of course, later Wyatt returned to New York and decided to be a writer instead. He married Gloria Vanderbilt and they had two sons, one of whom is Anderson Cooper.”
It was during her run in Italy that Jill met Dick Franchot (cousin of Franchot Tone) and fell in love. They lived together the whole time they were in Italy, and upon returning to America they were married. Jill’s kids, Bri and Pascal, were born in 1960 and ’62.
Her work in the theatre continued through the 60s, although her marriage did not. Jill started doing soaps, mostly in New York, and she became involved with Peter Duel. She worked nonstop; theatre, soaps, and then commercials. “By the late 70s, I knew I was going to be okay financially and would be able to put my kids through college,” Jill says, “it was an incredible feeling.”
In 1980, Jill joined the Broadway Cast of Children of a Lesser God, directed by Gordon Davidson. During the run, she was able to play both leading female roles, the mother and the attorney, to critical acclaim.
Jill hasn’t stopped working since.
Cut to the present. Jill has found commercial success in every medium she’s worked, becoming a staple on stage, television and commercials (where her gorgeous, interesting voiceovers can be heard in countless spots). She feels blessed to have worked with so many incredible people whom she can now call friends.
It was Jill’s daughter who introduced her to First Entertainment. This after hearing her mom go through all kinds of struggles with one of the major banks, whose name you know but, out of decorum, shall remain anonymous at this point. Jill tells us, “I’m so happy with First Entertainment. My previous bank not only didn’t provide personal service, they actually harmed a lot of people, including myself, by pushing sketchy refinances and other questionable financial products. But First Entertainment is incredible. I cannot believe the degree to which they help.” Jill pauses, then reflects, “In fact, when I go to the Credit Union I get the same feeling I used to get as a little girl when my mom would take us to the bank in sleepy little Santa Monica in the mid 1940’s. It was very warm, very personal and felt more like a family than a “bank.” That’s First Entertainment, to me. And that is why I’ve opened up accounts for all my grandkids, so they can start to learn about money too– from the best people possible.”
Kind words, Jill. Thank you. In a business where careers can be as fleeting as a wisp of smoke, it’s rare to find a talent whose gifts transcend the decades. We had to ask Jill to try and sum up the meta lessons she’s learned over the years.
Pausing, Jill ponders the question for some time, then tells us, “Well, it might seem simplistic, but you must follow your heart. It sounds so easy, but it takes a lot of courage and trust. Keep your eyes open, trust your instincts and, of course, keep studying and evolving.” Jill pauses a moment, then adds, “Oh, and one more thing – maybe the most important thing of all. And that is the willingness to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Many people have a hard time putting aside their ego and opening their minds to new possibilities, but I’ll tell you, saying ‘I don’t know’ can be a mighty, mighty force.”
All of us at First Entertainment are in awe of Jill, whose story spans the modern history of show business.
Oatmeal? Jill, you’re more like a five-star gourmet banquet.