A graduate of Sarah Lawrence University and the University of Edinburgh, American actress Jane Alexander first gained national fame for her Tony-winning performance in the 1965 Broadway play The Great White Hope. She repeated her portrayal of the white mistress of a turn-of-century black heavyweight boxing champ (played by James Earl Jones) for the 1969 film version of Hope, which served as her film debut and earned her an Oscar nomination.
The actress' subsequent theatrical-feature appearances have often been short in duration, but long on dramatic impact: most memorable was her single scene as a terrified Republican party bookkeeper ("If you can get Mitchell, that would be great!") in All the President's Men (1976). Alexander made the first of two TV-special appearances as Eleanor Roosevelt in Eleanor and Franklin, telecast in two parts on January 11 and 12, 1976; this was followed by Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years (March 13,1977). While she surprisingly did not win an Emmy for either of these superlative performances, she finally attained the award for her supporting appearance in 1981's Playing for Time. Her best-remembered television appearance was as the California housewife faced with the enormity of a nearby nuclear attack in Testament (1983), which was slated for PBS' American Playhouse, then redirected for a theatrical premiere -- a move that enabled Alexander to receive her third Oscar nomination (the second was for 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer). On a lighter note, the actress was hilariously outre as Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper in the TV biopic Malice in Wonderland (1989). Well known for her diplomacy and her espousal of liberal causes, Alexander found herself in the position to exercise both of these traits when, in 1993, she was appointed chairperson of the beleaguered National Endowment for the Arts.
Alexander would remain as active as ever over the coming decades, appearing most notably in films like The Cider House Rules, The Ring, Feast of Love, and Dream House, and on TV series like The Good Wife.