Bernadette Peters' mother started her off in show business by putting her on
the television show Juvenile Jury at the age of three and a half years. She
later appeared on Name That Tune and The Horn And Hardart Children's Hour. She
took tap lessons, and at the age of nine got her equity Card (under the name of
Bernadette Peters, to avoid ethnic stereotyping). In her teen years she appeared
in The Most Happy Fella (1959), was an understudy for "Dainty June" in the
touring company of Gypsy, and was in The Penny Friend (1966) and The Girl In The
Freudian Slip (1967).
Bernadette Peters first attracted critical notice in the Off-Broadway spoof of 1930s musicals, Dames at Sea.
In films she is remembered mainly for the 1979 comedy classic The Jerk co-starring Steve Martin. In theatre, she has come to be associated with Stephen Sondheim's music, appearing in his Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, and, in 2003, returning to Gypsy as "Mama Rose".
Bernadette Peters has won a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Musical twice: 1985 for Song and Dance and 1999 for Annie Get Your Gun. However, she was nominated several times: 1975 for Mack and Mabel, 1984 for Sunday in the Park with George, 1993 for The Goodbye Girl, and 2003 for Gypsy, as well as 1972 as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for On the Town. In 1994, she earned the Sarah Siddons Award for dramatic achievement in Chicago theatre.
In the 1970s, her guru was the cult-leader Oric Bovar, who seems to have gone insane in the succeeding years. She left when Oric, who began to refer to himself as "my son, Oric Bovar" and changed Christmas to his birthday, attempted to resurrect an acolyte who had died of cancer in 1976.
In 1985 in an otherwise negative review of Song and Dance, critic Frank Rich remarked that "she has no peer in the musical theater right now." She is frequently named one of the four greatest living musical divas alongside Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige. Of these, she is the only one who has not played Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of Sunset Boulevard.
Bernadette Peters was married to Michael Wittenberg, who died, at age 43, on September 26, 2005 in a helicopter crash in Montenegro. Wittenberg married the Tony Award-winning actress in July 1996. They wed at the home of Mary Tyler Moore, a longtime friend of Peters.
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