Meet Joan Benedict Steiger

Location: Malibu, CA
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Widowed
Education: Royal Opera Ballet School, Hofstra University, NYU

At age 9, FOF Joan Benedict Steiger became a member of the prestigious Royal Opera Ballet School in Great Britain. In her teens she studied with legendary acting coach Stella Adler. Joan even doubled for Elizabeth Taylor in the movie Butterfield 8, released in 1960.

Today, she has more than 80 films and at least 40 plays under her belt and has worked alongside stars such as Henry Fonda and John Forsythe. In addition to credits in dozens of famous films, Joan also had a few famous husbands, including actors Jeremy Slate, John Myhers and Academy Award winner, Rod Steiger. With a career like this behind her—wouldn’t you think it’s about time Joan hang up her hat?

Not a chance. Despite all of these accomplishments, Joan has no intention of retiring anytime soon. “I’m still dancing three times a week,” says Joan, “I’m still acting and auditioning. Acting is my relaxation.”

Where do you live?

Malibu, California.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Brooklyn, but I grew up in Rome and Paris.

Do you have siblings?

One brother.

What did your parents do?

My father died when I was very young. My mother was a real estate broker.

What was your childhood like?

I started dancing lessons when I was 7. My mother sent me to Europe when I was 9 to study dance. I was a member of the Royal Opera Ballet School. I started my drama lessons when I was 15. I studied with Robert Lewis, the great director, and Stella Adler, the great drama teacher, who were both founders of the Actor’s Studio.

Where did you attend college?

Hofstra College on Long Island, which is now Hofstra University.

When did you start acting?

I started acting in NY when I was 17.

Are you married?

I was married for 30 years to my first husband, John Myhers, in 1962. He was a great actor who was picked to star in the first national company of the Sound of Music as Captain Von Trapp. He died of cancer in 1992. Then, I married academy award-winning actor Rod Steiger in 2000. Rod and I first met when I was 18 in New York. He died of cancer in 2002. Three years later I got a call from Jeremy Slate, an actor that I had known when I was a teenager. We lived together for about four years, and then Jeremy passed away in 2006.

What was your first big role?

My first big roles were on The Steve Allen Show, Candid Camera, and as the spokesperson for Hazel Bishop, which was a big cosmetic company at the time. On Candid Camera I did one of the classic skits where I engaged a stranger in conversation at a bus station and pretended I was lost. I was wearing this hat with a huge feather and was supposed to get that feather in the stranger’s nose and ears and eyes. It was really hilarious.

You were Elizabeth Taylor’s double in Butterfield 8—how did you land that role?

I was acquainted with the casting director for MGM, who called and told me that they were looking for an actress to double and stand in for Elizabeth Taylor. When I tried to turn it down, he told me that this was the most unique job I’d ever have, because Elizabeth Taylor does not want to do this movie, but she has to, otherwise MGM won’t let her star in Cleopatra. So they needed another actress to rehearse her part and stand in for her, as well as double for her in a few scenes. I agreed, and I worked on the project for about six months. We had a wonderful time, and she was terrific. Towards the end of the film they gave me a line—I played the secretary to Elizabeth’s psychiatrist. My line was “She’s here doctor,” and I bring Elizabeth into the office. That movie keeps playing over and over again on TV, and I’m still getting residuals for that one line!

What other stars have you worked with?

I’ve worked with celebrities like Henry Fonda and John Forsythe, but my favorite star that I worked with was my late husband, Rod Steiger. He was incredible. He was such a fantastic actor. He would say to me before a scene, ‘Just react,’ which is one of the basic principles of acting.

What’s been your favorite role to play?

I’ve done over 40 plays all around the country, but my favorite was a one-woman play I did a few years back called “Leona” in Hollywood. I played Leona Helmsley, who was one of the largest hotel owners in the world. She was a tremendously powerful woman. She was in the papers because she and her husband were indicted for tax evasion, which wasn’t true. I really worked hard. I was on stage for an hour and 10 minutes without leaving the stage because there was no intermission. It was quite a challenge.

Do you prefer stage acting, or screen acting?

I prefer stage acting. You’re doing it live, so once the curtain goes up, that’s it. You’ve got a beginning, middle, and end. You get to do your role from beginning to end. You have a live audience, and that is the most fantastic feeling. I enjoy film acting too, but not as much.

What are you working on now?

I’ve been working on this web series called “Rita, Moby, and Tippy.” I play Rita, the off-the-wall grandma with a thirteen-year-old granddaughter.

How do you relax?

I take tap class three times a week. Dancing has always been a love of mine. I’ve done it since I was seven.

Describe your style.

I’m a clothes horse! Everyone who knows me can’t wait to see what I’m wearing. I’ve got about three huge closets full of clothes. I like mostly classic clothes. I have a million jackets and jeans. I’m usually in some kind of leather jacket, jeans and boots. I love Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, but I think the most amazing designer is Valentino.

How do you stay in shape?

I’ve been blessed with excellent health. I exercise every day. I eat all the right foods, but it happens that I love all the right foods. I’m a size 8, which I’ve been my whole life. I couldn’t even think of being fat—I love clothes too much!

What advice do you have for women over fifty?

Never think about age.

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