Remembering Jessica Walter
Willoughby Thom | Wednesday, March 31, 2021
On March 24, 2021, the amazing Jessica Walter passed away at 80 years old. Walter was an American actress who appeared in over 170 film, television and stage productions, but she is most famously known for her role as Lucille Bluth in the series “Arrested Development.”
I was heartbroken to hear the news of her death. Lucille Bluth is my favorite television character ever created. “Arrested Development” wouldn’t be the same without Walter’s incredible work as Lucille. The television show, “Arrested Development,” was critically acclaimed, but received mixed reviews by the public; it was a highly character-driven comedy and would be considered a cult classic. The show was pure wit and Lucille Bluth was the queen.
Prior to her role on “Arrested Development,” Walter had a prolific career in the arts. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, attended the New York City High School of Performing Arts and studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. She began her career on Broadway, which led to her winning a Clarence Derwent Award for Outstanding Debut Performance in 1963, and made her film debut nearly one year later in the neo-noir drama “Lilith.” In addition to her prominence in cinema, she began to work in the television industry after her first TV role as Julie Murano in “Love of Life,” running from 1962 to 1965.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Walter appeared in a myriad of television shows, and in 2003 to 2006 she appeared as a regular role as Lucille Bluth on Fox’s “Arrested Development.” If you are unfamiliar with comedy series, Lucille was the matriarch of the Bluth family and was known to be a scheming alcoholic. However, notwithstanding Lucille’s unhealthy habits, toxic influences and snobbish tendencies, she was the backbone of the fictional Bluth family and the show as a whole. Her incredibly memorable one-liners such as, “I don’t understand the question, and I won’t respond to it” and “Go make a star war,” as well as iconic mannerisms like her amazing winking skills and her love for Gene Parmesan, will go down in history.
Walter’s character was an unfriendly and cold individual, but this wasn’t what she was like in real-life. According to her daughter, Walter was the opposite of Lucille: “A nice and boring person.” Unfortunately, the series was canceled in 2006, but it was revived in 2013 and 2018 by Netflix. The reboot wasn’t as good as the original episodes, but Netflix brought the show back to life despite the negative reviews it received in the early 2000s. Nevertheless, Walter’s work on “Arrested Development,” whether you are a big fan or not, will be remembered as one of the greatest characters of our time.
In addition to her role as Lucille, she was also the voice of spymaster Malory Archer on the FX animated series, “Archer.”
As I sit writing this retrospective, the portrait of Lucille Bluth on my desk elegantly stares back at me with a drink in her hand, mid-wink. I hope she knows how much joy she brought to the people who have seen and continue to watch her incredible work in film, television and theatre.