A Thoroughly Modern Tale of Two Mrs. Meers:
Beatrice Lillie and Sally Struthers
Thoroughly Modern Millie began as an American musical film in 1967 starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Ogunquit Playhouse friend Carol Channing. The film also starred Ogunquit Playhouse alum Beatrice Lillie as Mrs. Meers – the role Sally Struthers is playing in this production. These two comediennes, it turns out, have a lot more in common than this role.
For over half a century Beatrice Lillie was known to audiences throughout the U.S and England as “the funniest woman in the world.” She made her Broadway debut in 1924 and continued to perform in revues, plays, film, on radio and television for the next 50 years. Noel Coward, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin and frequent Ogunquit performer Tallulah Bankhead were among her circle of friends.
Beatrice Lillie became best known for starring in This Year of Grace (1928), written for her by Noel Coward, and received equal recognition for her version of Coward’s song, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” Her most notable Broadway performances included The Seven Lively Arts in 1947, Inside USA in 1948, Ziegfeld Follies of 1957 and High Spirits in 1964 for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She toured the world with her one-woman show An Evening With Beatrice Lillie from 1952-1956, winning a special Tony Award in 1953 for her performance. That same year she appeared at the Ogunquit Playhouse in the award winning show. Beatrice Lillie returned to the Ogunquit Playhouse in 1956 in the revue Beasop’s Fables. During her career she also made motion pictures which started with a silent film called Exit Smiling in 1926. Her final film was Thoroughly Modern Millie as the diabolical Mrs. Meers in 1967.
Thoroughly Modern Millie became the most successful film Universal Studios had released to date. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, five Golden Globes and was the highest grossing film of the year. In 2002, the film was adapted into a Broadway musical with Sutton Foster in the lead. The stage musical Thoroughly Modern Millie opened at the Marquis Theater on April 18, 2002, ran for 903 performances and won six Tony Awards including one for Best Musical and one for Best Costume Design. These award winning costumes are featured in the Ogunquit production you are about to see.
Today, the Ogunquit Playhouse has created the Tony Award winning show with one of the funniest women of our time, Sally Struthers. Sally became known to American audiences in the groundbreaking television series “All in the Family,” for which she won two Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe for her acting and comedic skills. Since that time, Sally has gone on to star in her own television series, “Gloria,” in the Fox television series“9 to 5” and recurring roles in the CW’s highly acclaimed “Gilmore Girls” and the CBS comedy “Still Standing.” She has also starred in several major motion pictures including Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson and The Getaway with Steve McQueen (also an Ogunquit Playhouse alum) and Ali McGraw. Sally has entertained audiences on Broadway in such hit shows as Wally’s Café and Neil Simon’s female version of The Odd Couple. Sally continues to tour the United States annually, performing in regional theaters from coast to coast bringing her special brand of comedy to such popular shows as Always, Patsy Cline, Mame and Hello, Dolly!, to name just a few. Of course, for eleven years here at the Ogunquit Playhouse she has returned annually to the delight of Playhouse audiences, making some of Broadway’s most incredible roles her own.
The Ogunquit Playhouse has been truly blessed to have two of the most brilliant comediennes of our times brighten our stage and delight thousands of audience members with their special brand of merriment and mirth. We hope you enjoy Sally once again as she comes on the great Ogunquit stage to portray one of the stage and film’s great roles.