Gloria Gifford

A Journey From Broadway To Award Winning Director

By Guillaume Jean Lefebvre

Gloria Gifford, known by her married name, has carved a remarkable path in the world of entertainment, leaving an indelible mark on Broadway, major motion pictures, and television. Born in the vibrant city of New York, Gloria's journey is a testament to her resilience and passion.

Growing up in a foreign country until the age of five, Gloria's early years were shaped by 12 years of Catholic school education. These formative experiences instilled in her a strong foundation that would later influence her career.

Gloria's childhood was marked by her love for reading and music, igniting the flames of her passions and interests. Before venturing into higher education, she took on roles as a mother's helper and a summer secretary, gaining early professional experiences that would shape her work ethic.

Her academic journey led her to earn a B.A. in Liberal Arts from college, with additional semesters in graduate school for Political Science. This diverse educational background laid the groundwork for her future endeavors.

Key moments in Gloria's professional career include a Broadway show, involvement in a Warner Bros. major motion picture written by Neil Simon, and the honor of winning two NAACP directing awards for her work on Shakespeare with music.

Describing her approach to work as "do it now and work from the groin after preparation," Gloria's dedication and meticulous preparation have been the driving forces behind her success. She takes pride in her numerous film projects and recurring roles in TV series, coupled with accolades for her directing prowess.

Balancing professional and personal life, Gloria adopts a one-day-at-a-time philosophy. Looking ahead, she envisions directing two projects in 2024 and aspires to join a primetime series as a regular cast member.

Gloria Gifford seeks to be perceived as strong and compassionate—an artist whose impact extends beyond the stage and screen. Her journey serves as an inspiration, showcasing the triumphs of a woman who has fearlessly pursued her passions, leaving an enduring legacy in the world of entertainment.


1. Can you share more about the cultural influences of your early years, especially the impact of 12 years in Catholic school and living in a foreign country until the age of five? How do you think these experiences shaped your perspective as an artist?

I started piano lessons when I was 5 years old and continued for the next 13 years. My mother insisted I practice one hour each day, even on holidays, and I did do classical piano recitals until I went to college. I did learn to read and write in Jamaica, West Indies and that was a huge bonus for me when I returned to the United States. I entered kindergarten and after one day they put me in the First Grade because I was advanced. In the West Indies, I lived with relatives and gained a real sense of independence that has been fundamentally helpful to me all of my life. As an artist, being able to be self-starting and disciplined and relentless are key ingredients for our very topsy-turvy career. We can steady the boat when the waves are turbulent.

2. Your journey involves a diverse range of roles, from a mother's helper to a summer secretary before college. How did these early professional experiences contribute to your work ethic, and did they influence your career choices later on?

I did work as a mother's helper for a family the summer I was 16, and that gave me an insight into a family that was a different race, religion, and culture. I learned so much and loved it. Then I worked as a secretary the summer before college and on college breaks, and that taught me another kind of work ethic. I learned to work for women and respect them as high achievers, so they became role models. I worked a summer in the Berkshires when I was 18 as the drama, music, and dance counselor.

Twelve years of Catholic school, taught exclusively by women and in an all-female environment, instilled in me a profound respect for exceptional women. My high school was focused on college preparation, so I was surrounded by intelligent women and taught by equally smart instructors. I held leadership roles starting from grade school and continued to be a leader in high school. At the age of 13, I won a New York Citywide oratory contest among Catholic Schools, competing against both boys and girls.

Photographer: Evatt Carrodus - @evvatt
Model: Gloria Gifford
Locations: Her Residence in Los Angeles, CA & The GGC Theatre in Hollywood, CA

I didn't have a male teacher until I entered college. In college, I learned how to collaborate effectively with men and to give and receive respect. My work ethic was to exceed expectations and pay attention to detail, which was influenced by my mother's example—she was an incredibly hardworking person with strong ideals and ethics. Thirteen years of piano lessons, 11 years of ballet, and learning to cook, sew, and ride horses—all of this was thanks to my Mom. My father nurtured my dreams and always engaged with my intellect, never treating me as just a girl and never speaking down to me. He introduced me to poetry, shared his love for music and films, and took me to my first Broadway show, which was "DYLAN," the story of Dylan Thomas.

When I worked at Bloomingdale's for four years as the first Black executive, I learned more about sales and how to be an executive/leader.

3. You mentioned a significant background in reading and music. Can you elaborate on how these passions developed and influenced your creative endeavors, both in front of and behind the scenes in the entertainment industry?

I elaborated on the music in question #2, but reading - that started when I was 3. My mother encouraged my reading and always gave me books for Christmas - I still have those with her loving inscriptions dating back to when I was six years old. In high school, I went to the Jamaica Public Library in Queens EVERY day after school, and my bedroom and desk were always overflowing with books. When I got to college, my first English class teacher gave us a reading list, and I had read everything. He took me under his wing and encouraged me to read other writers. This passion grew to my current collection of almost 5,000 books that I own, and I did own a bookstore in Beverly Hills for two years. ACTING IS ALL ABOUT READING - scripts, research, etc. So that early passion has been enormously helpful to me as an actor and as a director.

Music - well, I sang and accompanied myself on the piano. In the '90s, I got a Warner Bros. recording contract and recorded some extraordinary material from writers like Diane Warren and Burt Bacharach. I have sung for the Kennedys, appeared on national television (the show THE MISSISSIPPI), and done numerous shows in cabaret.

I use music in everything I direct and did that with the two Shakespeare plays that I directed that received NAACP BEST DIRECTOR FOR A MUSICAL awards.

4. With a B.A. in Liberal Arts and additional studies in Political Science, how has your academic background informed your approach to storytelling and directing? Are there specific aspects of your education that you find particularly valuable in your artistic pursuits?

I am grateful for my liberal arts education because every actor/director has to use all areas of education to achieve the final product. Political Science and history are useful to me in every project because I love research and encourage the actors to research to deepen their understanding of the material. Yes, logic, math, languages, all of it contributes to strengthening my understanding of the human condition. That's every project helped by my background - and sales - for sure, for sure.

5. Winning two NAACP directing awards for Shakespeare with music is a remarkable achievement. Could you take us behind the scenes of those projects and share any challenges or memorable moments that shaped your directing career?

My interest in Shakespeare goes all the way back to my high school days. Ultimately, my first Broadway play was based on Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE - THE MERCHANT by Arnold Wesker, directed by John Dexter and starring Zero Mostel. Working on that project and then doing THE MERCHANT OF VENICE in Los Angeles, starring Linda Purl and Perry King, directed by Simon MacCorkindale, were two of my points of reference when tackling THE TEMPEST, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.

I spend time with the actors looking up tons of words in the dictionary, using No Fear Shakespeare books to begin the process, and ultimately going back to the exact text for performance. I show films of Shakespeare workshops from The Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK and sometimes films of full productions. That journey is very exciting, and then I bring in the music and watch the actors discover songs from my repertoire that they have no reference to - but they fall in love with the songs as they perform them. Diversity in music - Tom Jones, Pitbull, Johnny Mathis, Janis Joplin - it all works.

6. You've had a successful career on Broadway and in major motion pictures. How do you navigate the different demands of these platforms, and are there specific projects that hold a special place in your heart?

Of course, all the small productions I did in NYC led to THE MERCHANT on Broadway, and that was one of the most exciting beginnings in my career. We performed in Philadelphia and then for 6 weeks at The Kennedy Center, and then onto Broadway. There were 21 actors in the production, and I had the last lines of the play, which was such a thrill. I took a million photos of the actors and sent hundreds of postcards to friends and industry contacts, and every day was amazing for me. I auditioned three times, and the director John Dexter (who had had huge success with EQUUS and ultimately with M BUTTERFLY) was a great mentor to me, and I learned so many artistic things. The playwright Sir Arnold Wesker and Sir John Clements are other mentors from that production. I was discovered by Bill Cosby on the first day of rehearsals when he saw me on a news program talking about Zero Mostel and the play.

My first film was CALIFORNIA SUITE written by Neil Simon and directed by Herbert Ross. Herbert interviewed me and gave me such hope for my future, and then they flew me out to Los Angeles to audition for Neil. What a thrill. I ended up playing Richard Pryor's wife in this film, accepting the Golden Globe for Maggie Smith, and flying to London for the Royal Premiere for the Queen Mother. The party was at Regine's, and I danced with Donald Sutherland and made friends with Alan Alda - who was very kind.

I have always returned to theatre in between television and film - doing the first black production of FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE in Philadelphia, directed by Sheldon Epps. That was amazing.

I was a single mom after I divorced my husband, and I sometimes had to do 3 jobs to pay the bills and study and audition and get my son to school, etc. My work ethic - my Mom and Catholic School - that was my strength to navigate.

7. Your approach to work is described as "do it now and work from the groin after preparation." Can you delve deeper into this philosophy and how it has contributed to your success as an artist and director?

I had three acting teachers - Walt Witcover at HB STUDIOS in NYC, Michael Shurtleff in NYC, and 19 years with Milton Katselas in L.A. All brilliant men who gave me encouragement and technique and so many lessons about life and acting. It was Milton who taught me "do it now" and it was Michael and Milton who taught me about getting out of the head and into the groin. All three men made it possible for me to sing and to act using myself and not being stuck in my head. That works for me every audition and every job. Creating access to my instrument and using my instincts and my research to be truthful and authentic was the mission of these teachers. Michael made sure that I never judged a character, Walt was acting is believing, and Milton was leap into your role with everything you are and everything you have. They are my success angels. I have many success angels but these are the tops.

8. Balancing professional and personal life is often a challenge. Could you share some strategies or insights into how you've managed to maintain this balance throughout your career?

Living life one day at a time and using something that was said to me early in my career. I was at a party in London (where I was doing a play) and a man said to me " You're a life bettor. You keep betting that life is terrific so it is." BINGO. I am a life bettor and the adage "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere" - is another. Ups and downs and wins and losses and gifts and betrayals - all of it is a day by day challenge. But "there's got to be a pony in here somewhere." I try and balance it like a seesaw but it is doable.

9. Looking back at your accomplished filmography, are there specific movies or TV series that you are particularly proud of, and why? Are there any characters or stories that resonate with you on a personal level?

CALIFORNIA SUITE because it was the first and it was opposite the legend Richard Pryor with the legend Neil Simon and directed by Herbert Ross, who directed so many actors to Oscar performances. HALLOWEEN II because I created a character called Mrs. Alves that still resonates with the horror fans over 40 years later. THIS IS SPINAL TAP because my character was truly mistaken for a TSA worker and not an actress, and it is an iconic scene in the film. 48 HRS. because I worked opposite Eddie Murphy in his first film. HOT ROD BROWN CLASS CLOWN opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Tobey Maguire in his first starring role, and this was a great experience in every aspect. TRACEY TAKES ON opposite Tracey Ullman for 3 seasons, and I learned so much working with her and her directors. THE NANNY opposite Fran Drescher for 2 episodes, and David Steinberg's the most loving director in GOING BERSERK opposite the brilliant John Candy and powerful Ernie Hudson. Four seasons recurring on LIFE GOES ON with the Broadway legend Patti Lupone and a groundbreaking series about a Down syndrome boy. Recently, the first season of ABBOTT ELEMENTARY and working for and with Quinta Brunson. I have played a lot of teachers and authority figures, and that's me and that's personal. All of the comedy people I have worked opposite (including D.C. CAB) have given me many lessons, and I am proud of all of this work.

10. As you direct two projects in 2024 and aim to join a primetime series, what aspects of these new endeavors excite you the most? How do you envision your future contributions to the industry, and what goals do you hope to achieve in the coming years?

I would like to be a series regular on a primetime television show to create a character that shows that racism, sexism, and ageism cannot stop a determined person. The projects that I will be directing will continue to be diversified - as I have done that in every production that I have directed in the past 30 years and making sure that my strong women role models continue to be inspirational now and through my legacy.


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