Phyllis Newman, Tony-Winning Actress in 'Subways Are for Sleeping,' Dies at 86

Phyllis Newman - Orson Bean - Photofest - H 2019

She donned a towel in the musical co-written by her husband, Adolph Green, and beat out Barbra Streisand for her trophy in 1962.

Phyllis Newman, the popular Broadway actress who wore only a towel in her Tony-winning performance in the musical Subways Are for Sleeping, has died. She was 86.

Newman died Sunday in New York after a long battle with lung disease, her son, Vogue theater critic Adam Green, announced.

Survivors also include her daughter, Tony-nominated lyricist and composer Amanda Green (Hands on a Hardbody).

Newman was married to legendary lyricist, screenwriter and composer Adolph Green from 1960 until his death at age 87 in 2002. He and Betty Comden co-wrote the book and the lyrics for Subways Are for Sleeping.

The musical revolved around a magazine writer (Carol Lawrence) who goes undercover for a story about well-dressed men who are content to lead homeless lives in New York. Newman portrayed Martha Vail, a gorgeous would-be singer from Mississippi who is down on her luck.

She beat out Barbra Streisand (as Miss Marmelstein in I Can Get It for You Wholesale) to win the Tony in 1962. She landed another nomination in 1987 for her turn as Blanche in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound.

Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Newman started performing in 1939 in a kiddie revue. She made her Broadway debut in 1952 in Wish You Were Here and went on to appear in Bells Are Ringing, The Apple Tree, On the Town, Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue and the one-woman musical The Madwoman of Central Park West, which she co-wrote with Arthur Laurents.

Newman had an uncredited role in Picnic (1956) and went on to appear on the big screen in Let's Rock (1958), Bye Bye Braverman (1968), To Find a Man (1972), Mannequin (1987), The Beautician and the Beast (1997) and A Price Above Rubies (1998), among other films.

She played Paul Dooley's wife on the short-lived 1988-89 CBS sitcom Coming of Age and also was on TV in programs including Robert Montgomery Presents, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Quincy M.E., thirtysomething and 100 Centre Street.

In 2009, she received the inaugural Isabelle Stevenson Award, a special Tony, for her work as the founder of The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America, which has raised millions of dollars to women in need.

Newman wrote about her battle with breast cancer and the infidelities of her husband in her 1988 memoir, Just in Time: Notes From My Life.