Singer and actress Joanne Gleason, daughter of Monty Hall (longtime host of Let’s Make a Deal), was born in Toronto in 1950. Her family moved to New York in 1956 and to Los Angeles in the early 1960s. She graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1968 and took part in school productions of The Music Man, The Mikado, The Grass Harp, and The Madwoman of Chaillot. In high school she also received acting lessons from soap-opera actor John Ingle. She continued her education at UCLA and Occidental College.
In 1972 she had her professional stage debut in Promises, Promises with the Long Beach and San Francisco Light Opera companies, and in 1974 she played Ophelia opposite Stacy Keach in Hamlet at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
It was in Michael Stewart and Cy Coleman’s musical I Love My Wife (1977) – a satire on wife-swapping – that Gleason made her Broadway debut, playing Monica, for which she won a Theatre World Award. She returned to Broadway in a 1985 revival of Peter Nichols’s play Joe Egg. Along with Marlo Thomas and Olympia Dukakis, Gleason was a member of the opening-night cast of Andrew Bergman’s comedy Social Security (1986), for which Gleason won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.
Although she had already gained attention and honors for her stage work, her performance as the Baker’s Wife in Stephen Sondheim’s wry fairy-tale musical Into the Woods (1987) made her a Broadway leading lady. The musical itself won Tonys® for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, and Gleason earned a Tony® for Best Actress in a Musical. Her singing is preserved on the original Broadway cast recording.
In the Thin Man-inspired musical Nick and Nora (1991) by Arthur Laurents, Charles Strouse, and Richard Maltby Jr., Gleason played the leading lady, and in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005), a musical based on the Steve Martin-Michael Caine comic film, she played Muriel, for which she earned a Tony® nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical. In 2008 she starred off-Broadway in Willy Holtzman’s one-act play about 1960s radicalism, Something You Did.
A familiar presence in movies and on television, Gleason appeared in two of Woody Allen’s films – as Tony Roberts’s embarrassed wife in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and as Allen’s spouse in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). In Boogie Nights, she played Mark Wahlberg’s abusive mother. Other movies in which she has appeared include Heartburn, Let the Devil Wear Black, The Wedding Planner, Fathers and Sons, Wild Blue Yonder, Wedding Days, and Sex and the City.
On television, she was a regular on the CBS sitcom Love & War as the restaurant waitress Nadine Berkus. Other series in which Gleason appeared regularly are Hello, Larry; Temporarily Yours; Oh Baby; and Bette. She has also made appearances on The West Wing, The Practice, ER, Friends, Diff’rent Strokes, and Murphy Brown.
She is married to the actor Chris Sarandon.