A well-rounded and well-respected actress of the stage, particularly on Broadway and London's West End, actress Irene Dailey was better known, however, as the annoyingly neurotic patrician Liz Matthews on daytime's Another World (1964), a role that made her a household face, if not quite a name.
The daughter of Daniel James (manager of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan) and Helen (Ryan) Dailey, she was born on September 12, 1920, in New York City. Her older brother (by nearly 5 years), Dan Dailey, became the breezy, popular song-and-dance man of 40s and 50s musical films. From the time she was 8 years old, Irene was appearing in vaudeville shows and, greatly influenced by her actor brother, toiled in stock and various touring shows as a teenager in order to gain experience. Eventually studying under Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen, she later taught acting at the Berghof studio before operating her own School of Actors Co. in New York for over a decade (from 1961).
On Broadway during the 1940s and 1950s, she performed in short-lived productions of "Nine Girls", "Truckline Cafe", "Springtime Folly", "Idiot's Delight" and "Miss Lonelyhearts" before earning accolades in London for her work in "Tomorrow--In Pictures (1960). With that success, she was cast and earned rave reviews for her sensitive portrayal as Nettie, the mother of a dysfunctional family in the war-themed drama, "The Subject Was Roses", in 1964, co-starring Jack Albertson and Martin Sheen. The show itself earned a Tony Award.
When it was time to adapt the play to the screen, however, Irene had little film clout and was the only player of the three not given the opportunity to transfer her part to film. Patricia Neal was given that distinction and handed a nomination at Oscar time for her fine work. This lost chance could have been the beginning of a brilliant career in film for Irene. As such, while she never did make a strong dent in movies, she did appear in character form in a handful of features, including No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), Daring Game (1968), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The Grissom Gang (1971), The Amityville Horror (1979) and American Playhouse: Stacking (1987).
She began pursuing on-camera work in middle age. Her strong suit was in soapy drama and she tended to play unsympathetic on TV. She guested throughout the 60s on prime-time TV, with roles on such popular series as The Defenders (1961), The Twilight Zone (1959), Dr. Kildare (1961), Ben Casey (1961) and The Doctors and the Nurses (1962), among others. It was daytime drama, however, that made the most use of her talents. After a short-lived role on The Edge of Night (1956), she took over the role of the brittle, manipulative aunt, Liz Matthews, in 1974, on Another World (1964) and was alternately loved and despised by the show's fans on and off for over 20 years, earning a daytime Emmy in the process in 1979.
Winning a Drama Desk Award for her stage work in "Rooms" in 1966 and serving as a replacement in the successful comedy, "You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running", the septuagenarian made a return to Broadway in the 1990s, with the plays "Lost in Yonkers" (as the grandmother) and "The Father". She died of colon cancer at a health care facility in Santa Rosa, California on September 24, 2008 at age 88. She never married and had no children. Brother Dan died thirty years earlier.