In 1999, Doris Roberts achieved "overnight" stardom in the role of Marie Barone in the series Everybody Loves Raymond, going from working actress -- which she'd been for more than 40 years -- to being an instantly recognized performer. It was an improbable climb to the top rank of popular culture stardom. Roberts was born in St. Louis, MO, in 1929, to a family that was soon shattered when the father abandoned them. She had a difficult but loving childhood as her mother sought to provide for both of them by herself, and eventually Roberts gravitated toward the idea of an acting career. To do this, she had to work at any jobs that she could find, including clerk typist, to afford the lessons that she needed from teachers that included Lee Strasberg and Sanford Meisner.
She made her first television appearance in the early '50s, in a Studio One production of Jane Eyre, and made the usual rounds between theater and television. Her theatrical debut came on the a stage at New York's City Center in 1955, and she was Shirley Booth's understudy in the theatrical version of the comedy Desk Set. She distinguished herself in the role of Mommy in the original production of Edward Albee's The American Dream, and since the early '60s, had carved a niche for herself in maternal and neighborly roles, on both stage and screen. Following her screen debut in Jack Garfein's New York-filmed drama Something Wild (1961), she tended more toward comedy (albeit often black comedy), with performances in Jack Smight's No Way to Treat a Lady, where she played the skeptical onlooker whose questions and low-key intervention save the life of a would-be victim; Leonard Kastle's The Honeymoon Killers (1970), in which she played the roommate of the nurse-turned-murderer played by Shirley Stoler; and Alan Arkin's Little Murders (1971), where she played Elliott Gould's mother.
Female comics seemed to perceive Roberts' gifts as an actress especially well, as she got two of her better roles, in A New Leaf (1971) and Rabbit Test (1978), from Elaine May and Joan Rivers, respectively. Although she began appearing in television in the 1950s, with appearances on Ben Casey, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Baretta, All in the Family, The Streets of San Francisco, Rhoda, Soap, and Barney Miller, Roberts didn't start to make a lasting impression in the medium -- which would become her vehicle for stardom -- until the 1970s. She was supposed to have a role in a proposed new series starring Mary Tyler Moore, but when that series failed to sell, she was cast in the role of Donna Pescow's mother in the series Angie (1979), which got Roberts her first real notice by the public or the press. After that, the television appearances grew more frequent, and finally in 1983, she joined the cast of Remington Steele midway through the series' run, as Mildred Krebs, an IRS investigator-turned-secretary-turned-detective, working alongside Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist, and often stealing the show with her low-key comedic work. Roberts' first marriage ended in divorce, and her second, to novelist William Goyen, ended when he died in 1983 -- her son from her first marriage, Michael Cannata, has been her manager since the 1970s. It was a dozen years after Remington Steele, and some notable guest star appearances on shows like St. Elsewhere, that she landed the role of Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond. Since then, she has been a guest on talk shows and an acting celebrity, with a brace of Emmy nominations to her credit.
In 2003 Roberts published the book Are You Hungry, Dear?: Life, Laughs and Lasagna, and the following year she was appointed a cultural ambassador by the U.S. Department of State. But back on the small screen Roberts was more recognizable than ever before, with appearances in Grey's Anatomy, Hot in Cleveland, and Desperate Housewives keeping her as active as ever. In between screen roles, the veteran actress served as a chairperson for the nonprofit Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, helped inmates do preliminary training with seeing-eye dogs as part of Puppies Behind Bars, and encouraged kids to stay positive and productive in the L.A.'s Best after-school program.
~ Bruce Eder, Rovi