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Betty Thomas
Betty Thomas (cropped).jpg
Thomas at the Emmy Awards Governors Ball in 1994
Betty Lucille Nienhauser

(1948-07-27) July 27, 1948 (age 72)
OccupationActress, film and television director
Years active1975–present

Betty Thomas (born Betty Lucille Nienhauser, July 27, 1948)[1] is an American actress, director, and producer of television and motion pictures. She is known for her Emmy Award-winning role as Sergeant Lucy Bates on the television series Hill Street Blues.[2] As of March 2018, Thomas is one of just two directors (and the only solo director) to have multiple films on the list of seventeen highest-US-grossing female-directed films.[3] Additionally, all of her films are in the top twenty-five highest-US-grossing female-directed films.[4]

Early life

Thomas was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1948 to Nancy (née Brown) and William H. Nienhauser, Sr.[5][6] She graduated from Willoughby South High School, Willoughby, Ohio, in 1965. After high school Thomas attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Upon graduating Thomas worked as an artist and taught high school before becoming a part of The Second City Chicago premiere source for improvisational theater.[7] She took her professional surname from her marriage to Douglas Thomas.[6]

Second City

Thomas came to her entertainment career by a circuitous route. While working as an artist and school teacher she became a waitress at The Second City to earn extra cash for a trip abroad. While waiting tables Thomas was encouraged to try out for the troupe, and subsequently joined the company.[8] She was praised for her brassy and outspoken performances, and became the first woman to direct one of their MainStage theatre productions.[9] Thomas also worked with several up and coming Second City alumni, most notably Bill Murray.[10] When The Second City opened a Los Angeles branch, Thomas moved west.


Acting career

Upon her arrival in Los Angeles, Thomas received many bit parts in low-budget films like Chesty Anderson, USN (1976), the Robert Zemeckis film Used Cars (1980) as well as sketch comedy films like Tunnel Vision (1975), and Loose Shoes (1980), the latter of which featuring Second City classmate Bill Murray.[8] She also appeared in the 1989 film Troop Beverly Hills, starring Shelley Long.[11]

While Thomas had been building her career in comedy, her breakthrough role as an actress came when she was cast in the role of police officer (later Sergeant) Lucy Bates on the TV series Hill Street Blues (1981–87). Over the course of the series her character goes from inexperienced rookie to confident sergeant. She received seven Emmy nominations for best supporting actress, and took home the award for the 1984–85 season.[12]

Directing career

After having lied to a Variety reporter about planning on directing a Hooperman episode, she was given a real opportunity by the show's executive producer, and from there her directing career began.[13] After making several other acting appearances, Thomas began directing episodes of Hooperman in addition to the premiere episodes of Doogie Howser, M.D. in 1989. She went on to direct episodes of Arresting Behavior and several episodes of the HBO series Dream On, the latter of which earned her an Emmy for best director.[12] Thomas is nicknamed "The Midnight Queen" because of her preference for nighttime shoots.[14]

In 1992 Thomas took the next step in her directing career with her feature debut Only You. A slight, playful romantic comedy; Only You was a departure from Thomas's experience on Hill Street Blues or her subsequent television directing. Wayne Rice, the film's producer and screenwriter, said that Thomas was chosen to direct due in part to the film's plot in which a man is on a hapless quest to find the perfect woman would be considered inherently sexist without a female director.[15]

Three years following the release of Only You Thomas directed The Brady Bunch Movie (1995), a satirical vision of the 1970s television series The Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch Movie was a box office hit with domestic ticket sales of $46,576,136, nearly quadrupling its $12 million budget and making it at the time one of the highest-grossing films directed by a woman.[2]

She followed The Brady Bunch Movie with other successes, including Private Parts (1997), Dr. Dolittle (1998), 28 Days (2000), and John Tucker Must Die (2006). 2009's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel became the first female-directed picture to gross more than $200 million and made her the most successful woman director to that time at the box office.[16] In 2012, Thomas directed a low-budget online series called Audrey for the WIGS YouTube channel.[17]

In 2001, Thomas won the Dorothy Arzner Directors Award of the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, presented by the Los Angeles chapter of the Women in Film Organization.[18]



Year Film Role Director / creator Notes
1976 Tunnel Vision Bridgit Bert Richards Neal Israel, Bradley R. Swirnoff
1976 Jackson County Jail Waitress Michael Miller
1976 The Last Affair Henri Charr
1976 Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy Party Guest #1 Ed Forsyth
1977 Dog and Cat Waitress Bob Kelljan
1978 C.P.O. Sharkey Seaman Daley Aaron Ruben
1978 Outside Chance Katherine Michael Miller
1980 Used Cars Bunny Robert Zemeckis
1980 Loose Shoes Biker Chic #1 Ira Miller
1981 The Nashville Grab Maxine Pearce James L. Conway
1982 Twilight Theater Perry Rosemond
1982 Homework Reddogs Secretary James Beshears
1983 When Your Lover Leaves Maude Jeff Bleckner
1985 ABC Afterschool Specials Dr. Mary Lewis Guy Fraumeni
1987 Prison for Children Angela Brannon Larry Peerce
1981–87 Hill Street Blues Sgt. Lucy Bates Steven Bochco, Michael Kozoll Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, 1985
1989 The Tracey Ullman Show Miss Belts, Gym Teacher Ted Bessell, Art Wolff Segment titled "Francesca: A Physical Education"
1989 Troop Beverly Hills Velda Plendor Jeff Kanew
2018 Kidding Herself Michel Gondry Episode: "Green Means Go"

Directing for television

Year Series Role Notes
1989 Hooperman Director Episodes: "Goodnight, Sweet Hooperman", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Morning and Night", "In the Still of My Pants"
1989 Doogie Howser, M.D. Director Episodes: "Doogie The Red-Nosed Reindeer", "The Ice Queen Cometh"
1990 Mancuso, FBI Director Episodes: "Night of the Living Shred", "Shiva Me Timbers", "Murder of Pearl"
1990 Parenthood Director Episodes: "Thanksgiving with a T that Rhymes with B that Stands for Basketball", "I Never Invested for My Father"
1991 Sons and Daughters Director TV series
1991 Midnight Caller Director Episode: "Her Dirty Little Secret"
1991 Shannon's Deal Director Episode: "Matrimony"
1992 On the Air Director TV Mini-series: Episode #1.6
1994 My Breast Director TV film
1994 Couples Director TV film
1996 The Late Shift Director Won Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Specials, 1997
1990–96 Dream On Director Directed 18 episodes, Won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, 1993
2001 Silicon Follies Director TV film
2003 Senor White Director TV film
2006 That Guy Director TV film
2006 The Loop Director Pilot episode
2007 Dash 4 Cash Director TV film
2015 Grace and Frankie Director Episode: "The Fall"

Directing feature films

Year Series Role Notes
1992 Only You Director Feature film debut
1995 The Brady Bunch Movie Director One of the highest-grossing films directed by a woman
1997 Private Parts Director Adaptation of Howard Stern's autobiography; Won Audience Award at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Tied with Forgotten Light), 1997
1998 Dr. Dolittle Director $294 million in box office gross
2000 28 Days Director
2002 I Spy Director
2006 John Tucker Must Die Director
2009 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Director $443 million in box office gross

Producing feature films

Year Series Role Notes
1998 Can't Hardly Wait Producer
2000 Charlie's Angels Executive Producer
2001 Silicon Follies Executive Producer TV movie
2002 I Spy Producer
2004 Surviving Christmas Producer
2005 Guess Who Executive Producer
2006 John Tucker Must Die: Featurettes Producer Video Documentary Short


  1. ^ Born 1947 per; accessed May 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b "Betty Thomas". Hill Street Blues. Paley Center for Media. Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  3. ^ "10 Highest-Grossing Movies Directed by Women, From 'What Women Want' to 'Captain Marvel' (Photos)". TheWrap. 2019-11-15. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  4. ^ King, Susan (2000-04-02). "Betty Thomas, at the Forefront of an Evolution (Not a Revolution)". Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ "". 1995-02-16. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  6. ^ a b "Nancy Brown Nienhauser obituary at". Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  7. ^ "Betty Thomas biodata at". Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  8. ^ a b "Betty Thomas biography at". Yahoo Movies. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  9. ^ "Betty Thomas". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  10. ^ "The Thaumaturgy Department". Tumblr. Retrieved May 6, 2012.
  11. ^ "Betty Thomas Awards". Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  12. ^ a b "Betty Thomas". CelebrityNooz. 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  13. ^ "Betty Thomas". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  14. ^ Rausch, Andrew (2008). Dequina, Michael (ed.). Fifty Filmmakers: Conversations with Directors from Roger Avary to Steven Zaillian. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 239.
  15. ^ Weinstein, Steve (January 2, 1992). "A Long Way From 'Hill Street's' Beat: Betty Thomas Struts Her Comic Side in Directing First Feature, 'Only You'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 15, 2012.
  16. ^ Young, John (March 12, 2010). "Betty Thomas: Highest-grossing female director". Entertainment Weekly.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Betty Thomas Awards". Retrieved 2018-11-14.

External links

This page was last edited on 1 May 2020, at 15:26
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