Broadway Actress Marta Heflin Dies: Robert Altman Performer in Late '70s

Broadway Actress Marta Heflin A Perfect CoupleBroadway actress Marta Heflin dead at 68: Featured in several Robert Altman movies (image: Marta Heflin in 'A Perfect Couple')

Stage actress Marta Heflin, who was featured in a handful of movies in the '70s and early '80s, including three Robert Altman efforts, died on September 18, 2013, after “a long illness.” Heflin (born on March 29, 1945, in Washington, D.C.) was 68.

On Broadway, Marta Heflin was featured in the musicals Fiddler on the Roof, Hair, Soon, and Jesus Christ Superstar (replacing Yvonne Elliman as Mary Magdalene). Additionally, she was seen in Ed Graczyk's Robert Altman-directed 1982 play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, about a group of James Dean fans – among them Karen Black, Cher, Sandy Dennis, Kathy Bates, Sudie Bond, and Mark Patton – who get together on the twentieth anniversary of Dean's death.

Marta Heflin movies

Along with her fellow Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean actors, Marta Heflin reprised her stage role in Robert Altman's “filmed play,” also released in 1982 – apparently so people outside New York City could check out Graczyk's work.

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean would turn out to be Heflin's next-to-last film appearance. That same year, she would be seen in a minor role in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, starring Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis.

In the '70s, Heflin had supporting roles in Frank Pierson's A Star Is Born (1976), starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; and in Robert Altman's (mostly quite funny) comedy of manners A Wedding (1978), featuring an eclectic all-star cast that included Mia Farrow, Dennis Christopher, Carol Burnett, Paul Dooley, Desi Arnaz Jr., Nina van Pallandt, Geraldine Chaplin, Lauren Hutton, and veterans Lillian Gish, Peggy Ann Garner, Vittorio Gassman, Dina Merrill, Viveca Lindfors, and Howard Duff.

With that sort of competition, one would think that her performance would have gone unnoticed, but somewhere along the way Marta Heflin caught Altman's eye. In 1979, she replaced Sandy Dennis as Paul Dooley's romantic interest in the director's uneven comedy A Perfect Couple. The sarcastic title refers to the fact that Heflin's and Dooley's characters are a total mismatch; in any case, the film was not a success.

On TV, Heflin had small roles in Daniel Mann's Jewish concentration camp-set Playing for Time (1980), starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander, and in The Gentleman Bandit (1981), directed by Heflin's cousin, Jonathan Kaplan, and starring The Waltons' Ralph Waite.

Marta Heflin's famous relatives

Marta Heflin's uncle was Best Supporting Actor Academy Award winner Van Heflin. Besides his Oscar-winning turn in Johnny Eager, Heflin was featured in dozens of important Hollywood movies, among them Lewis Milestone's The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, with Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott; Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary, with Jennifer Jones and Louis Jourdan; George Stevens' Shane, with Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur; Delmer Daves' 3:10 to Yuma, with Glenn Ford; and George Seaton's blockbuster Airport, in which he plays The Mad Bomber.

Marta Heflin's aunt was actress Frances Heflin, perhaps best known for her role in the daytime soap opera All My Children. Her uncle was composer Sol Kaplan, among whose credits are the Marilyn Monroe melodrama Niagara (1953), Martin Ritt's spy drama The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), and two Star Trek episodes from the '60s.

As found in Marta Heflin's New York Times paid obit, “donations may be made in Marta's name at: animalhavenshelter.org.”

Note: This article has been corrected. Initially, it stated that Frances Heflin and Sol Kaplan were Marta Heflin's parents, and their son Jonathan Kaplan was her brother. Marta Heflin's mother was journalist and theater producer Julia Heflin, whose husband, journalist and public relations advisor Martin Heflin, was the brother of Van Heflin and Frances Heflin.

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