Margaret Whitton, best known for her sultry performance as Rachel Phelps, the showgirl turned team owner in the Major League movie franchise, died peacefully at her home in Palm Beach on Dec. 4, surrounded by loving friends and her beloved husband of 23 years, Warren Spector.
Margaret, who film critic Pauline Kael once hailed as “a knockout,” had a distinguished career in New York theatre before her many film and television roles, which eventually led her to directing and producing.
Immediately recognizable for her fair complexion and striking red curls, Margaret became known for playing the kind of multi-tasking strong sexy woman who can stylishly seduce, cleverly outwit, and effortlessly outmaneuver any man who crossed her path — all while landing a perfect one-liner.
Margaret and Warren were seasonal residents of Chilmark, and she served on the Squibnocket Advisory Committee. She also participated in a Q&A at the Film Center to discuss her feature film directorial debut, A Bird of the Air, a romantic drama based on Joe Coomer’s novel, The Loop.
Margaret made her off-Broadway debut at the American Place Theater in 1973 alongside Olympia Dukakis in Baba Goya. She became a regular player at Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival – at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park and its downtown home, The Public Theater – working with directors such as Arthur Penn, Max Stafford-Clark, Les Waters and Howard Davies. She appeared in several productions by The Phoenix Theater and Manhattan Theatre Club. Her Broadway performances include Steaming with Judith Ivey; The Apple Doesn’t Fall; and Marlene — and she was Raul Julia’s victim, Lucy, in the national tour of Dracula.
Her most recognizable film roles include Aunt Vera in The Secret of My Succe$$ with Michael J. Fox; Rachel Phelps in Major League 1 & 2; Molly in 9 1⁄2 Weeks and Catherine in Man Without a Face with Mel Gibson. She also starred in television series, including Good & Evil, opposite Teri Garr, and A Fine Romance, among many others.
When Ms. Whitton left acting, she turned to directing — first for the theatre, with Marina Carr’s Portia Coughlin and By the Bog of Cats, and The Public Theater’s production of Dirty Tricks starring Judith Ivey as Martha Mitchell.
In 2008, Margaret and Warren formed independent production company Tashtego Films. In addition to developing and producing A Bird of the Air, Tashtego Films has been involved in a number of notable films, including Casting By, a feature documentary about Margaret’s dear friend Marion Dougherty who revolutionized Hollywood.
People who never met her will always know the artist. If you were fortunate enough to have the backstage pass, you know the ardent baseball fan; the voracious reader; the dog whisperer; the passionate fighter; and the astonishing horticulturist with an inexplicable eye for color and beauty.
Margaret kept her brief battle with cancer very private. She faced her illness with all the grace and wit she brought to every facet of her life. A memorial service will take place in New York city in early 2017.
Those who wish to honor Margaret are invited to contribute to two charities that were especially close to her heart: The Marion Dougherty Safe Haven Fund (http://ow.ly/aY2N306N9CG) which supports victims of domestic violence with their pets; and the African Mission Healthcare Foundation (http://ow.ly/KXTU306N9GX) in support of Dr. Tom Catena, an American physician saving lives in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan in the face of genocide.