Miriam Karlin, best known outside the United Kingdom as the woman killed by a giant phallus in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, died earlier today at a British hospital. Karlin was 85.
Born Miriam Samuels to an Orthodox Jewish family on June 23, 1925, in North London, Miriam Karlin began her acting career after training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company and was the first woman to play the (until then) male lead in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. Another notable stage role was Golde in the original West End production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Karlin also had minor roles in more than 30 motion pictures, among them Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top (1959), the Laurence Olivier vehicle The Entertainer (1960), and more recently in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006). Her most notable television roles were Paddy in the 1960s BBC comedy series The Rag Trade (and in its late ’70s reboot) and Yetta Feldman in So Haunt Me in the ’90s.
But for those unfamiliar with her stage and television work, Karlin is “Cat Lady,” the woman psycho hoodlum Malcolm McDowell beats to death with a phallus sculpture in A Clockwork Orange. That scene is perhaps the most disturbing and most controversial in what happens to be one of the most disturbing and most controversial movies ever made.
Karlin was an active member of actors’ union Equity and throughout her life got involved in various liberal causes, from the Anti-Nazi League to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She also supported the organization Dignity in Dying, which campaigns for changing British laws on assisted dying.
Miriam Karlin became an OBE in 1975.