Hosts and Producers
Alistair Cooke was the host of Masterpiece Theatre for 22 seasons, beginning with the show's premiere in 1971 and continuing until he retired in 1992. He became synonymous with the series, and his social and historical commentary gave audiences a unique perspective on what they were about to see. Cooke often equated his role on the series with that of a headwaiter, "in the sense that I'm there to explain for interested customers what's on the menu and how the dishes were composed."
Cooke was born in Manchester, England, and received a First Class Honors Degree in English Literature from Cambridge University. In 1932, he attended the Yale School of Drama on a fellowship. Cooke subsequently directed plays at Harvard University for its Hasty Pudding Club and dramatic society, as well as for his own amateur theater company. He emigrated to America in 1937 and became a U.S. citizen in 1941. He served as foreign correspondent for the London Times and was then chief U.S. correspondent for the Manchester Guardian for 24 years. He produced his weekly radio talk, "Letter from America," for the BBC World Service for over fifty-five years. Cooke retired, at the age of 95, in early 2004 and died in March of that year.
In Remembrance of Alistair Cooke
Cooke's 1974 address to the House of Representatives
When asked in 1992 if he'd like to succeed the venerable Alistair Cooke as host of Masterpiece Theatre, Russell Baker replied, "I'd like to be the man who succeeds the man who succeeds Alistair Cooke." A few months later he accepted the job without that interval.
Millions of readers know Baker's self-effacing style through his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Growing Up, its sequel The Good Times, 14 other books and 4,600 syndicated newspaper columns (also Pulitzer Prize-winning) written for The New York Times between 1962 and 1998 — the longest running column in Times history.
Baker was born in 1925 in Loudon County, Virginia, and spent his boyhood in Baltimore, Maryland. Following pilot training with the Navy during World War II, he returned to Baltimore to complete his degree at Johns Hopkins University (English Literature, 1947) and stayed in town to work for The Baltimore Sun. In 1954, he joined the Washington bureau of The New York Times. There, he covered the White House, Congress, State Department, and national politics until a column beckoned in 1962. In 1986 he returned to his rural roots. He now lives in Leesburg, Virginia, not far from his birthplace.
Launched to superstar status in 1993 with her role as Special Agent Dana Scully in the Award winning cult TV The X Files series, Gillian Anderson is well known to Masterpiece audiences for her Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of Lady Dedlock in 2006's Bleak House.
Anderson has starred on-stage and in numerous feature films, most notably in her tour de force performance in Terence Davies' House of Mirth, and alongside Sean Connery in Playing by the Heart. She also starred in the feature films The X Files (1998), The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008) and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008). Anderson holds a directors credit for the famous All Things (2000) episode of The X Files. In 2006, she received plaudits for her role in The Last King of Scotland alongside James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker.
Laura Linney's long list of accolades includes Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count on Me; Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Kinsey opposite Liam Neeson, and a Golden Globe nomination for The Squid and the Whale. Among her other film credits are Richard Curtis' ensemble comedy Love Actually and Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. On television, she won an Emmy for playing Frasier Crane's love interest Charlotte and another Emmy for her role as Iris Brevard on Wild Iris. She also starred as Mary Ann Singleton in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City. Her many theater roles include a Tony-nominated performance in Richard Eyre's The Crucible, and the Roundabout Theatre Company's revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In 2008, Linney was nominated for an Academy Award for The Savages, and then won an Emmy for her portrayal of the nation's second first lady Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries John Adams.
Matthew Goode recently starred as Charles Ryder in Julian Jarrold's motion picture adaptation of Brideshead Revised. Previously, he appeared on film in The Lookout and in Woody Allen's Match Point among others. He next stars as super villain Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias in Zack Snyder's highly anticipated Watchmen (Warner Bros., March 6, 2009). On television, Goode starred in several Masterpiece/BBC co-productions on PBS, including My Family and Other Animals, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries and He Knew He Was Right.
Raised in the city of Exeter, England, Goode studied drama at the University of Birmingham, and later, classical theater and stage acting at London's Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts. His stage work includes the roles of Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest and Moon in Lorca's Blood Wedding.
Just completing his award-winning run as the tenth incarnation of the extraterrestrial crime fighter known as Doctor Who, David Tennant is handing over the protection of the universe to a new Doctor. Meanwhile, he is tackling fresh acting challenges on Earth, such as battling the usurper in Elsinore Castle as Hamlet in the 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Shakespeare play, which was recently filmed for BBC Two.
Masterpiece fans will remember him fondly as the notorious 18th-century lothario Giacomo Casanova in the Masterpiece miniseries Casanova, in which he played the youthful counterpart to Peter O'Toole's courtly wolf. He was also the flirtatious vicar Reverend Gibson in Masterpiece's He Knew He Was Right and, on BBC America, the down-at-the-heel Inspector Peter Carlisle in the cult hit Viva Blackpool. Millions of moviegoers know Tennant as Barty Crouch Junior in the blockbuster Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Ginger Littlejohn in Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things. He recently worked with Bill Nighy, Romola Garai, and Julie Christie in the Stephen Poliakoff film Glorious 39, which will be released later in 2009.
Gene Shalit was the first host of Mystery! in 1980. Best known as the longtime book and film critic on NBC's The Today Show, Shalit has also had an extensive career in print and radio. Shalit is the author of two books, Laughing Matters (Doubleday, 1987), and Great Hollywood Wit (St. Martin's Press, 2002). His film reviews were a regular feature in Look magazine, and he wrote for the Ladies Home Journal for 12 years. For 12 years he wrote and broadcast a daily essay on NBC Radio Network. Shalit was a regular panelist on What's My Line? and To Tell the Truth.
A beloved actor and writer, Vincent Price is often remembered for his distinct voice, and work in horror films such as House of Wax, House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Price's credits extended well beyond the horror genre, with films such as Laura, Leave Her to Heaven and The Whales of August. Price hosted Mystery! from 1981-1989. Known as a Renaissance man who loved cooking among a variety of other interests, Price passed away in 1993.
Dame Diana Rigg was born in Yorkshire and trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon in 1959 and made her mark shortly thereafter in productions of The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, and King Lear.
Following on the heels of a year-long stint as Emma Peel in The Avengers, Rigg joined the National Theatre, where she played Dottie in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, Celimène in The Misanthrope, Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, and Phaedra in Phaedra Britannica. Rigg also starred in Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, Antony and Cleopatra, Stephen Sondheim's Follies, and won a Tony Award in 1994 for her Broadway performance in the title role of Medea. Her many film credits include: The Hospital, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Little Night Music, Evil Under the Sun, and A Good Man in Africa. In 1988, Rigg was decorated as a Commander of the British Empire and, in 1994, was named Dame Commander of the British Empire.
Dame Diana Rigg began hosting Mystery! in 1989, and counts among her many television credits Hedda Gabler, Witness for the Prosecution, Bleak House, and Mother Love. She also starred as Mrs. Danvers in Masterpiece Theatre's Rebecca (1997), a performance that earned her the 1997 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries. Rigg also starred in the acclaimed series The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries.
A Tony Award-winner for his role as Emcee in Cabaret, Cumming recently starred off Broadway in The Seagull, and will be on stage this summer at the Lincoln Center Festival in Euripides' The Bacchae. His extensive film appearances include X Men 2; Sweetland; the Spy Kids trilogy; Eyes Wide Shut; GoldenEye; Circle of Friends; The Anniversary Party (which he also wrote, directed, and produced), and he will next be seen in the film Full Grown Men and this fall in Boogie Woogie opposite Heather Graham. On television, he has appeared in Sex and the City on HBO, The L Word on Showtime and Midnight Snack on Sundance Channel. Born in Scotland, Cumming lives in New York City.
Christopher Sarson graduated with honors from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1960, and worked as a director and producer for Granada Television. He first came to America in 1963 to work at WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., then at WGBH in Boston. The founding father of Masterpiece Theatre, Sarson was its first executive producer, from 1970 to 1973. He also created and produced the original Emmy-winning PBS children's show Zoom, and produced PBS's Live from the Met from 1977 to 1979 and Nickelodeon's Kids' Writes from 1982 to 1983. His program Parenting Works! aired on PBS in 1996; he has since spent his professional life creating videos about parenting and parenting education for children. At home in Colorado, he is active in community affairs.
In 1967, Joan Wilson joined WGBH as a producer in the Radio Drama Development Project, for which she also directed and acted. Joan succeeded Christopher Sarson as executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre in 1973. During her tenure, Joan brought classics such as I, Claudius and Upstairs, Downstairs to public television audiences nationwide. She also created Masterpiece Theatre's sister series, Mystery!, which made its debut in 1980. Joan Wilson married Jeremy Brett (Mystery!'s Sherlock Holmes) in 1977. She died in 1985.
Since taking over the helm of the PBS series Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! in 1985, Rebecca Eaton has been responsible for such high-profile titles as Prime Suspect, Bleak House, The Lost Prince, Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Tony Hillerman's Skinwalkers, Coyote Waits and A Thief of Time as well as The Complete Jane Austen and Cranford. She has accrued a bookcase of accolades, including forty two Primetime Emmy Awards, seventeen Peabody Awards, two Golden Globes, and two Academy Award nominations for the Masterpiece co-production, Mrs. Brown. In 2008, she oversaw the highly successful launch of the new Masterpiece, with new scheduling (Classic, Mystery! and Contemporary), new hosts and a new look. The revamped series has drawn in a new generation of drama fans, and at the same time increased the size of the series' core audience.