Anna Berger, a character actress known for playing matriarchal figures from different ethnic backgrounds in films like Woody Allen’s “Crime and Misdemeanors” and television shows like “The Sopranos,” died on May 26 in Manhattan. She was 91.
Her brother Alex confirmed the death.
Ms. Berger began playing a diverse array of older women while she was still young; as early as her student days at the Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, she was cast as Juno Boyle, an Irish working-class mother, in a production of Sean O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock.”
“I played my mother; it wasn’t difficult,” she said in an interviewwith the filmmaker Peter Rinaldi in 2008.
Her credits stretch back more than 60 years and read like an Ellis Island immigrant registry. In “Crimes and Misdemeanors” she played an elderly Jewish socialist. On “The Sopranos,” in 2002, she was Cookie Cirillo, a cantankerous Italian-American nursing home resident.
She appeared in similar supporting roles in films, including the Adam Sandler comedy “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” (2008) and “Ghost World” (2001); on Broadway, in the short-lived adaptation “Unlikely Heroes: 3 Philip Roth Stories” (1971); and on television, in “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “N.Y.P.D. Blue,” among other shows.
Ms. Berger said that portraying elderly, sometimes overbearing but often marginalized women came naturally. “I just thought of the women I knew, and I would portray the heartache they were going through,” she said.
Anna Berger was born in Manhattan on July 26, 1922, the third of William and Bella Berger’s eight children. She grew up in a two-bedroom tenement on the Lower East Side and began acting as a child. After graduating from Seward Park High School, she studied acting with Erwin Piscator at the Dramatic in 1948.
In 1957 she originated the role of Golde in “Tevye and his Daughters,” a dramatic adaptation of Sholem Aleichem’s stories that predated the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” In 1974 she played a mother taken hostage on a subway in “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”, which starred her childhood neighbor and friend Walter Matthau.
In addition to her brother Alex, Ms. Berger, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is survived by her husband, Robert Malatzky; two daughters, Susan Malatzky and the actress Joanna Sanchez; another brother, Milton; and two sisters, Florence Adler and Shirley Brauner.
More recently Ms. Berger wrote a one-woman autobiographical show, “Absolutely Anna,” which she performed at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck, N.J., in 2011.