Madeleine Sherwood, a distinguished Canadian-born character actress who played saints and sinners on Broadway and TV and who endured blacklisting in the 1950s and a prison term in the 1960s for her civil rights activism, died Saturday at her home in Saint-Hippolyte, Quebec. She was 93.
A family spokeswoman, Melissa Fitch, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.
While not a household name, Sherwood became a familiar pug-nosed face over a six-decade show-business career that included roles in landmark plays by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams and a singing part in a Stephen Sondheim-Richard Rodgers musical. She also portrayed the stern Mother Superior on the ABC sitcom “The Flying Nun” (1967-70), opposite Sally Field’s young and airborne novice.
Sherwood dazzled audiences and reviewers in Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” (1953) as Abigail Williams, a spurned teenage hussy who spreads malicious accusations of witchcraft in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts.
New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson praised her “fire and skill” in the powerful Miller morality play that many have read as an allegory against the McCarthyite anti-communist witch hunts of the day. (Sherwood said she was blacklisted for a period when she stood up for actress Lee Grant, who had been targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.)
In 1955, Sherwood had a notable supporting role on Broadway in Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” about greedy relatives of a dying Mississippi plantation owner known as Big Daddy.
Her other Broadway credits included the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical “Camelot,” in which she replaced M’el Dowd as Morgan Le Fey in 1962. That same year, she briefly succeeded Bette Davis in Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana.” Her final Broadway appearance was in Edward Albee’s bleak and short-lived “All Over” (1971), directed by John Gielgud.
Sherwood won a 1963 Obie Award for distinguished performance in “Hey You, Light Man!,” Oliver Hailey’s wistful comedy about an actor in a play and his relationship with a member of the audience.
Madeleine Louise Hélène Thornton was born in Montreal on Nov. 13, 1922. She won small roles with the Montreal Repertory Theatre but put aside her acting ambitions to marry Robert Sherwood (not the playwright of the same name), a union that ended in divorce.
Sherwood was the longtime companion of the late Hylan Johnson, an actor known as “Dots” or “Dotts” and best remembered as a black American soldier in Roberto Rossellini’s 1946 film “Paisan.”
She grew involved in civil rights causes and in May 1963 was arrested during a Freedom Walk in Etowah County, Alabama. She was sentenced to six months of hard labor.