Joanna Merlin

Joanna Merlin; actually Joann Ratner ( born July 15, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois ) is an American actress, casting director and acting teacher.


Joanna Merlin was born in 1931 as Joann Ratner, daughter of Jewish grocer Harry Ratner and his wife Toni. Already in 1942 she appeared in a production of Too Many Marys in Chicago. Merlin attended the University of California ( UCLA) in Los Angeles and had, among other things Michael Chekhov to their mentors. In 1956, she made ​​her feature film debut with a small role as one of the daughters of Jethro (played by Eduard Franz ) Cecil B. DeMille's epic film in The Ten Commandments, which they henceforth used the maiden name of her mother ( Merlin) as a stage name. The mid-1950s moved Merlin to the U.S. East Coast and began in pieces at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford ( Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale, 1958 ) and at the Rockland County Playhouse (including Look Back in Anger and The Diary of Anne Frank) to play.

From the early 1960s appeared Merlin as an actress in several pieces on New York's Broadway. In 1961 she was hired as an understudy for the role of Martha Bernays Freud in the original performance of A Far Country, a drama about the life of Sigmund Freud. In 1964 she took over in the world premiere of the musical Fiddler on the part of Tzeitel, which was to be performed more than 3,200 times on Broadway. Although Merlin had no vocal training, she had received the role by Jerome Robbins, who had previously rejected the actress auditioning for the Broadway production of Mother Courage.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Merlin began to work primarily as a casting director. The wife and mother had been persuaded by the theater director and producer Harold Prince to whom she had met in the production of Fiddler on the Roof. In this position, she worked among other things on the hit Broadway programs, Side by Side by Sondheim (1977 ), Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures (1975) and Sweeney Todd and Evita (both 1979) with. As a casting director, she was responsible for the feature film directors Michael Cimino ( Year of the Dragon, 1985), John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China, 1986) and James Ivory ( Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, 1990; Jefferson in Paris, 1995) active. For the casting of Bernardo Bertolucci's Oscar-winning film The Last Emperor (1987 ) she won the Artios Award from the Casting Society of America. A further prize she received for the casting of the Broadway production of Into the Woods (1987).

Regularly occurs Merlin as an actress in film and television in appearance, being like most in the theater specialized in ethnically oriented character roles, including the part of the landlady in the Oscar-nominated drama Hester Street ( 1975). Small supporting roles took over Merlin in Alan Parker's award-winning musical Fame - The Path To Glory (1980 ), in which she starred as a dance teacher, and Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (1979) and Roland Joffé's The Killing Fields - Crying Country (1984 ). A recurring television role was from 2000 to 2009 in the series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit held, in which she played the Judge Lena Petrovsky. For her performance in Ragnar Freidank Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn (2008) Merlin was awarded the Best Actor prize at the International Film Festival of Strasbourg. The short film, which Merlin himself cowrote and co-produced, based on the eponymous one-act play in which they are in New York's Brooklyn Museum had occurred in 2005 and deals with the everyday life of a retired secretary in the homonymous district of New York.

From 1950 to 1955 Joanne Merlin was married to the artist and teacher Martin Lubner. In 1964 she married second husband, the lawyer David Dretzin. She is the mother of two children. In addition to her acting career and casting work Merlin are regular acting workshops at New York's Tisch School of the Arts, the The Actors Center, American Conservatory Theatre, the Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University. In 1986, she co-founded the Non-Traditional Casting Project ( NTCP ), which campaigns against racism and exclusion in theater, film and television, and supports artists with a migration background and disabled artists. In 2001 she published the guidebook Auditioning: An Actor Friendly Guide.

Plays ( selection)

Filmography (selection)



TV series

Casting director


Casting Society of America

Strasbourg International Film Festival

  • 2009: Festival award for Best Actress in a Short Film for Beautiful Hills of Brooklyn