Irene Tedrow: Working Actor

by M.C. Antil on November 8, 2010

Irene Tedrow: A pop culture timeline

Unless you’re a far bigger pop culture geek than you should probably let on, you have never heard the name Irene Tedrow.  But regardless of your level of geekiness, you know the woman’s face.

I promise you, you know her face. 

Irene Tedrow is one of those hundreds of nameless faces you see all the time on television and in the movies; a character actor who’s only job is to show up and be as believable as humanly possible.  And that’s exactly what Ms. Tedrow was this past weekend, as I watched her playing Tuesday Weld’s mother opposite Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid on Turner Classic Movies. 

What was so great about Irene Tedrow, however, wasn’t the films in which she appeared, or the fact that she was a terrific actress, which she clearly was.  After all, she was both a founding member of San Diego’s acclaimed Old Globe Theater, and someone who played Shakespeare and on Broadway for over 60 years.

With Walter Brennan in The Real McCoys

No, what was great about Tedrow was that as she outgrew the ingénue phase of her acting career, she morphed into a second, far more successful phase that saw her playing a series of older women — often stern, matronly types. 

In time, that second phase of Ms. Tedrow’s career would prove to be so successful that it now serves as virtual 40-year timeline of American pop culture, especially prime time network television. 

In fact, it’s truly astounding how many iconic TV series the actress appeared in from the Eisenhower to the Reagan years — without once ever earning star billing or finding work as a series regular.

Decade by decade, consider Irene Tedrow’s almost mind-blowing list of television credits:

Bob Cummings Show


The Millionaire

Loretta Young Show

Red Skelton Hour

Leave it to Beaver


Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Jack Benny Show


Twilight Zone

Real McCoys

Sea Hunt

Dennis the Menace

Dr. Kildare

Perry Mason

Burke’s Law

Ben Casey


Andy Griffith Show


The Fugitive

Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adams Family

Hogan’s Heroes

My Three Sons

Peyton Place 

The Virginian

Flying Nun

Family Affair

Mod Squad


Death Valley Days


Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color

Room 222





Barnaby Jones



Kung Fu

Six Million Dollar Man


Marcus Welby, MD

Harry O

Streets of San Francisco 

Charlie’s Angels

Rockford Files

Diff’rent Strokes

Three’s Company


Trapper John, MD 

Quincy, M.E. 

Remington Steele

Magnum, PI

Punky Brewster

St. Elsewhere

L.A. Law.

As someone who briefly pursued acting as a career, all I can say is, Ms. Tedrow, I tip my cap.  You might have never gotten your name over the title, but you became in your lifetime the one thing just about every young man or woman who ever took a shot in New York or Hollywood ever wanted to be: an honest-to-goodness working actor. 

And in the process — and in fact, for more years than just about any of your peers — you helped tell the stories that helped shape our lives.

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