"It's very stimulating to be doing a piece like this," says Sullivan. "It's so rich and textured. And demanding." While sitcom work makes its own demands, Sullivan agrees that performing on stage requires some very different acting muscles. "It's like running a marathon," she says. "It's as if you've been having appetizers and then, suddenly, you're given a meal. There's a leap of faith."
Sullivan, who was born in New York City, started out doing rep in the Midwest and in Washington, DC. "The genesis of my career was in the theater," she says. After a stint with the National Repertory, she landed a role on Broadway in the play Jimmy Shine, which also featured Dustin Hoffman. Then she starred in The Beauty Part, a play by S.J. Perlman. She began working in television in the mid-1960s, eventually doing four years on the soap opera Another World.
In 1976, Sullivan was nominated for an Emmy for her role as Maggie Porter in the mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man-Book II. That led her to the short-lived series Having Babies. She continued to appear in television movies and was even seen in the first Star Trek movie. Her next series role was in the comedy It's a Living in 1980. And in 1981, she got the big one: Maggie Channing in the night-time soap Falcon Crest.
Through all of this, and particularly while on Falcon Crest, she was doing stage work as well--most notably a production of Fifth of July at the Mark Taper Forum. Her other stage credits include Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and Mourning Becomes Electra; she also was seen in PBS-TV versions of Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and The Winter's Tale.