Kate Jackson


Kate Jackson (1948- ) came to national attention for her starring role in the hugely popular television series Charlie's Angels. She is an Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated veteran of dozens of films and several television series and has appeared as a guest star on numerous television shows. She is also an outspoken advocate of women's health issues, having survived two bouts of breast cancer as well as open-heart surgery.

Lucy Kate Jackson was born on October 29, 1948, in Birmingham, Jefferson County, to Hogan, the wealthy president of a building-supply company, and Ruth Jackson; she has one sibling. Jackson attended private schools in Birmingham, graduating in 1966. She enrolled in the University of Mississippi as a history major but transferred in her sophomore year to Birmingham-Southern College, where she took her first theater class. In 1968, Jackson graduated with a degree in history and spent the summer in an actor training program at the Stowe Playhouse in Stowe, Vermont. That fall, she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, the oldest acting school in the United States, founded in 1884. There, she studied acting and performed in a number of the school's productions, while also working various jobs to pay her bills; they included modeling and serving as a page for the NBC television network.

Jackson graduated in 1970 and almost immediately earned a one-year role on the gothic-horror soap opera Dark Shadows, on which she played the ghost of a Victorian governess. Her performance made such an impression on the series' creator that he cast her in the lead role in a feature film, Night of Dark Shadows, in 1971. Her positive experience in film-making led her to relocate to Los Angeles that year, and soon after her arrival she found roles on several television series, including Bonanza and The Jimmy Stewart Show, and in made-for-television films. Likely because of her initial success on Dark Shadows, Jackson often was cast in horror films, including Death Cruise, Satan's School for Girls, and Killer Bees, with screen legend Gloria Swanson.

These roles brought Jackson to the attention of famed television producer Aaron Spelling, who offered her a role on his new police series The Rookies. Jackson would play nurse Jill Danko, wife of lead character Mike Danko (played by veteran actor Sam Melville) for four seasons to high acclaim and great popularity with viewers. When The Rookies was cancelled, Spelling, through his Spelling/Goldberg Productions, signed Jackson to a role in a new detective series he was developing. In its original conception, the series was named The Alley Cats, but Jackson took issue with the name. Apparently inspired by a piece of art hanging in Spellings' office, she suggested that the series be named Harry's Angels. The show creators finally settled on Charlie's Angels so as to avoid confusion with the already existing show Harry-O. According to Jackson and the producers, it was also Jackson's idea to keep the identity of the head of the detective agency secret from the "Angels." The show was an instant success and garnered Jackson Emmy and Golden Globes nominations for best actress for all three seasons. Her success also earned her continuing roles in made-for-television movies, including the pilot for the series James at 15 and Roger Corman's Thunder and Lightning.

In 1978, Jackson married fellow actor Andrew Stevens and also suffered a setback to her acting career that made her question her commitment to Charlie's Angels. She had been offered the lead female role in the 1979 film Kramer vs. Kramer opposite Dustin Hoffman, but she was under contract to Spelling/Goldberg, and they refused to allow her to accept the role. It went instead to Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar for the part. So, when her work on the third season of Charlie's Angels was completed, Jackson quit. She divorced Stevens in 1980 and two years later married New York businessman David Greenwald, with whom she established a production company, Shoot the Moon Enterprises. The couple would divorce in 1984.

Despite turmoil in her personal life, Jackson continued to act in television and feature films, including the critically praised Making Love (1982). In 1983, she starred in the comedic espionage series Scarecrow and Mrs. King (produced by Shoot the Moon), playing a divorced housewife who gets involved in the international intrigue of a spy, played by Bruce Boxleitner (codename: Scarecrow). The show was hugely popular and garnered Jackson Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best actress in 1985. During the end of the show's third season, Jackson was diagnosed with breast cancer, and thus she played a greatly reduced part in the fourth season. Although Jackson recovered, the show was cancelled. Ever popular with producers, Jackson was offered the lead role in Baby Boom, a series adapted from the 1987 film of the same title. The show was canceled after one season, and Jackson discovered that her cancer had returned and underwent another treatment regime. Jackson again recovered from cancer after a partial mastectomy and returned to work. Baby Boom would be her last series, and she instead focused her career on made-for-television films and guest spots on series.

According to an interview in 1992, Jackson said that she, tired of life in Los Angeles, sold her home there in 1988 and bought a Victorian farm house in Keswick, Virginia. She also began dating stunt man Tom Hart, who she met in Utah while on vacation. The couple married in 1991, but the union ended in divorce in 1993. The following year, Jackson underwent successful open-heart surgery to repair a congenital defect. In 1995, she adopted a son and also became a spokesperson for health care advocacy organizations, particularly for heart disease and cancer, including the American Heart Association. In 1999, she received the Humanitarian Award from the Israeli Cancer Research Fund for her efforts on behalf of cancer research.

Jackson continues to act, including playing a part in Aaron Spellings' 2000 remake of Satan's School for Girls. She also has appeared as a celebrity judge on fellow Charlie's Angels alumna Jaclyn Smith's Bravo series Shear Genius, and most recently published a memoir entitled The Smart One, an allusion to her character on Charlie's Angels.

Claire M. Wilson
Auburn University


Published March 15, 2012
Last updated March 15, 2012