Ann Jillian is an American actress whose career began as a child actress in the 1960s. She is possibly best known for her role as the vampy Cassie Cranston on the 1980s sitcomIt's a Living.
Early life and career
Ann Jillian was born Ann Jura Nauseda in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1950, although some sources mistakenly cite 1951. She was born to Lithuanian immigrant parents and speaks Lithuanian fluently. Jillian was raised as a devout Roman Catholic. She began her career as a child actress in 1960 when she played Little Bo Peep in the Disney film Babes in Toyland. Jillian appeared as Dainty June in the Rosalind Russell-Natalie Wood movie version of Gypsy. She had several television appearances in the 1960s and 1970s, notably becoming a regular on the 1960s sitcom Hazel and appearing in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode "Mute" as the mute telepathic Ilse Nielson. In 1983, Jillian was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award recognizing her achievements within the entertainment industry as a child actress. Jillian moved on to voice roles, for Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sealab 2020 in the early 1970s, but — told she was too old to play youthful roles of the day and too young to play a leading lady — there was no more work for her in Hollywood. She took a department store job and studied psychology, but heeded the advice of casting director Hoyt Bowers and Walt Disney who had told her, "Whatever you do, keep working at your craft". Jillian married Andy Murcia, a Chicago police sergeant, on March 27, 1978, and shortly thereafter Murcia retired to manage his wife's career. Murcia later partnered with Joyce Selznick in management of Ann Jillian until Joyce died of breast cancer shortly after. In the late 1970s, she toured in musical comedies including Sammy Cahn's Words and Music. After appearing with Mickey Rooney in the play Goodnight Ladies in Chicago, the producers cast Ann Jillian to appear in the original company of Sugar Babies on Broadway with Rooney and Ann Miller in 1979. She also starred in I LoveMy Wife at the Drury Lane Theatre in Chicago.
Jillian appeared in more than 25 films, mostly for television. Though she had nearly two decades' worth of film and television credits already, she first came to national prominence in the 1980s' series It's a Living, a sitcom that elevated Jillian to sex symbol status in 1980. She was last to be signed onto this series and received last place billing. The sitcom aired for two seasons on ABC before being cancelled due to low ratings and was sold into syndication for the burgeoning cable television market. Toward the end of her time on the series for the ABC run, she portrayed Mae West in a 1982 made-for-television film. The supporting cast included James Brolin, Piper Laurie and Roddy McDowall. Jillian was nominated for a lead actress Emmy and Golden Globe for her performance. In 1983, she appeared in the John Hughes movie Mr. Mom with Michael Keaton and Teri Garr. The same year, she appeared in the miniseries Malibu, starring Kim Novak, Eva Marie Saint and James Coburn. That fall she starred on her own sitcom, Jennifer Slept Here, in which she played a ghost in a variation on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. By this time, It's a Living had become a surprise success in syndication. Jennifer Slept Here ended in 1984, enabling her to take a role in the miniseries Ellis Island, co-starring Richard Burton, Faye Dunaway, Ben Vereen and Liam Neeson. Dunaway and Vereen were nominated for Golden Globe Awards, and Jillian and Burton were nominated for Emmy Awards. Bob Hope selected her to appear in six of his television specials, including two entertaining U.S. troops stationed in Beirut and Saudi Arabia. She displayed her athletic abilities on three Battle of the Network Stars specials and a Circus of the Stars special and appeared in the charity extravaganza Night of 100 Stars. She guest starred in television specials for Don Rickles and David Copperfield and was on the dais at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast for Mr. T. In 1985, she played The Red Queen to Carol Channing's White Queen in an all-star television musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. The same year, the producers of It's a Living made the relatively unheard-of decision to resume production of the series, by then three years off the air, for first-run syndication, and Jillian was contractually obligated to return to the series. In 1994, she played the mother of an unborn child with a heart defect in Heart of a Child.
Family and later work
Jillian later starred on the namesake series Ann Jillian, which aired 13 episodes on NBC during the 1989-90 season. She had a son, Andrew Joseph, in 1992. She has continued to act, with ten TV movie roles throughout the 1990s, though her television and film credits have been sporadic since the late 1990s, as she decided to devote herself to raising her son and to promoting breast cancer issues. Today, she mostly works as a motivational speaker and also performs as a singer in corporate and symphony "pops" circles, conducted by Judith Morse. She is an occasional guest columnist for the website TheColumnists.com. She resides with her family in the Greater Los Angeles area. On September 12, 2015, Jillian was inducted into the National Lithuanian American Hall of Fame.
Before resuming production on It's a Living in 1985, Jillian made headlines when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she became a vocal advocate for cancer research and prevention. Leaving It's a Living after the 1985-86 season, she focused on beating her cancer, with treatment including a double mastectomy. Her suffering with cancer was chronicled in the top-rated made-for-TV film, The Ann Jillian Story, in which Jillian portrayed herself. The film required two years to be produced, due to conflicts in tone, the degree of medical information included, and the relatively limited, realistic reaction portrayed by Jillian and her stage husband Tony LoBianco, before and after her surgery. Jillian received her third Emmy Award nomination, for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special, and won a 1989 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV.