Actress now advocates for cancer prevention and research
By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
Marlborough – Before Marcia Cross — now 58 — performed Shakespeare and starred as Bree Van de Kamp in the hit TV series, “Desperate Housewives,” she was “The Panther,” Marlborough High School’s mascot. Her mom, Janet Cross, shared with the Fifty Plus Advocate, “Marcia worked at Dunkin Donuts back then starting at 5 a.m. so she would be free Saturday afternoons for the football games. She was a great panther.”
Recently, Janet said, “I just found a copy of Marcia’s high school graduation program when I was cleaning out. It went Conway, Cross – as in George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband.”
(Kellyanne Conway is a former senior advisor to President Donald Trump while her husband has been an outspoken opponent of the president.)
Growing up in Marlborough
The Cross family raised their three daughters, Ellen, Marcia and Susan, in Marlborough. Janet and her husband Mark have lived there for over 60 years.
“We lived in a great neighborhood with wonderful people. There were lots of children the same age as mine,” she said.
Janet, a retired longtime teacher in Marlborough, is proud of all three of her daughters, who are very close.
“Susan is a teacher in New Hampshire who now lives in York, Maine. Ellen, a computer program director, lives in Watertown. I have seven grandchildren, including one boy.”
Educators help the young actress
Two teachers named Betsy played a significant role in Marcia’s success.
According to Janet, “We owe it all to her sixth grade teacher Betsy Banks who put her in a play called ‘The Witch of Blackbird Pond.’ As a child, Marcia was always lively. She took piano lessons and dance lessons from the Ceil Sharon School of Dance, where everyone went in those days.”
Marcia also gave credit to another Betsy.
“The biggest influence in my young life was my high school drama teacher Betsy Joseph. At 14 years old I asked her to take me to NYC never thinking she would say yes,” she recalled.
“Much to my surprise she did and accompanied myself and three other students to the Big Apple where we saw ‘A Chorus Line,’ went to Sardi’s, and ate at the Top of the World Trade Center. She also helped me get a scholarship to Tufts University for their summer drama program, had me direct a play at school and encouraged me to follow my dreams. We are still, all these years later, great friends.”
During her senior year of high school, Marcia finished her studies by December so she could audition for college theater programs during the second half.
Ultimately she landed a coveted spot at Julliard.
“We could not see any performances at Julliard until Marcia’s third year. When we did, it was beautiful,” Janet recalled.
About Julliard, Marcia said, “What I am truly most grateful for is my parents’ support in my decision to go to The Juilliard School. I have marveled many times at them paying for an education that must have seemed like a pie in the sky dream. Once upon a time I took for granted the time, money and love that was so easily given to me growing up, but never as an adult. They are inherently generous in every way and I have the deepest love and the greatest respect for them.”
Cancer survivor and advocate
These days Marcia is busying raising her 13-year-old twin girls on the west coast along with husband Tom Mahoney. Both Marcia and her husband have recovered from cancer – hers anal and his throat – which have been linked to the same human papillomavirus (HPV).
Marcia commented, “As for going through anal cancer, I was very lucky that my gynecologist discovered it early. What I have done since my recovery and continue to do now, is to educate others about the HPV virus and the cancers it can cause. It certainly wasn’t a job I was looking for, but no one was speaking out about it and too many people were suffering silently.”
“I credit my no-nonsense New England upbringing to feeling no shame. It is a ubiquitous virus,” she added. “Almost everyone gets it so there should be no stigma about protecting ourselves from it or treating it if we do. I hope one day HPV and all its repercussions will be spoken about as freely as we discuss other cancers that were also once thought of as taboo.”