Judith Light played Angela Bower on Who’s The Boss for nine years. That’s 196 episodes exchanging witticisms with Tony Danza. Let’s just say that can make you pigeonhole a person.
After that show finally ended in 1992, Light starred in a number of woman in danger TV movies, made several guest appearances, and snagged a couple sizable roles on series of her own. Including something called Phenom that I have no recollection of at all, as well as a significant stretch on Law and Order: SVU. She also landed a recurring supporting role on the charming sitcom Ugly Betty.
While her television work was consistent, she was doing her best work on stage. There, she collected three Best Featured Actress in a Play Tony nominations for Lombardi, Other Desert Cities, and The Assembled Parties, winning the award for the latter two.
It wasn’t until her role as Shelly Pfefferman on the great Amazon Prime series Transparent that Light truly shed the baggage I saw her carrying from Who’s The Boss. I think others may have felt that way too. Her peers noticed as well as two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe nod followed.
Therefore, I should not have been surprised by her remarkable turn on Ryan Murphy’s second installment of American Crime Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Somehow, I was not prepared.
Light delivers the performance of her life as Marylin Miglin. Miglin was a cosmetics magnate hosting on the Home Shopping Network whose closeted husband (played so sadly by Mike Farrell) is brutally murdered by Darren Criss’ Andrew Cunanan. Cunanan stages the murder for maximum humiliation, surrounding the victim’s body with gay porn mags. It’s not that her husband’s other life is unknown to her, although you never see a single conversation between the two of them about it. Nor do you hear her admit to that which is obvious to her. You don’t need to see or hear it. It’s written all over her face.
All of her shame lives behind her very weary eyes. Whatever unspoken understanding existed between the two is shattered and rubbed in her face by the way Cunanan leaves her husband. It is a staggering act of cruelty. One that leaves Miglin screaming and all but broken.
Then Miglin does an extraordinary thing. She collects herself as if she’s having guests over after a good cry. She is a host after all. Not only on television but in her real life. All that willpower that allowed her to live in a state of outward denial comes in useful upon finding her husband with a bag over his head, his mouth taped, and his skull crushed in their garage.
One of the things Murphy’s telling does so well is to showcase the devastation Cunanan’s murders leave behind. The dead are not the only victims. Those that must find a way to go on without their loved ones are given the respect of showing their deep hurt.
None more so than that of Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin who in her final scene is shown at work, putting on a smile. Getting her makeup just so. And then going in front of a camera to hawk some product no one really needs. One foot in front of the other. As if the world just keeps turning no matter what happens in one’s life. Because it does.
It is absolutely devastating.
I ask that the Emmy voters consider Judith Light in the category of Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her performance as Marilyn Miglin in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
I will never forget her brittle grace, or that invisible 60-pound stone she carried upon her back in every single scene.