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Jean Smart: Alpha Delta Pi | mazi + zo sorority jewelry

We love her on "Hacks" and can't wait for the next season!

Alpha Delta Pi , Alpha Theta chapter at University of Washington

"I’ve been really lucky to play a lot of strong women who also happen to be funny."

Article: Jean Smart

Jean Smart

Actress Jean Smart’s name is synonymous with versatility, grace, and a lasting impact in the entertainment industry. 

Early Life and Education

Jean Elizabeth Smart was born on September 13, 1951, in Seattle, Washington. Raised in a loving and supportive family, Jean's passion for the arts was evident from a young age. Her parents nurtured her interests, encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

During her high school years, Jean discovered her talent for acting. She performed in various school plays and quickly became known for her dramatic flair and comedic timing. After graduating, she set her sights on further honing her craft, which led her to the University of Washington.

College Years and Joining Alpha Delta Pi

In her sophomore year at the UW, she pledged Alpha Delta Pi, and we imagine membership provided her with a strong support system and lifelong friendships. 

Jean thrived in the collegiate environment. Balancing her academic responsibilities with her sorority commitments, she displayed the dedication and work ethic that would later define her acting career. During her time at the university, she continued to participate in theater productions, further refining her acting skills. Some notable productions included "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "The Threepenny Opera."

Jean graduated from the University of Washington Professional Actors Training Program with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree, fully prepared to begin working as a professional actress.

Early Career

Jean’s early career was marked by a series of roles in regional theater in her home state of Washington. She performed with the Seattle Repertory Theatre and other local companies, where she garnered critical acclaim for her performances. These years of hard work and perseverance laid the foundation for her eventual breakthrough in Hollywood.

Her big break came when she was cast in the sitcom Designing Women. Jean auditioned for the role of Charlene Frazier Stillfield and impressed the creators with her charm and comedic timing. Her portrayal of the sweet-natured office manager won the hearts of audiences and critics alike. This role catapulted her into the spotlight, establishing her as a household name.

"It was really the first time I had been on a show where I thought, 'This is the part I want to do for the rest of my life.'"--Jean Smart

It was also on the set of Designing Women where she met actor Richard Gilliland, who would become her husband. The two shared a deep bond and collaborated on several projects over the years.

Designing Women was more than just a job for Jean; it was a testament to the power of women supporting women (kind of like a sorority, right?) Jean's time on the series allowed her to showcase her comedic talents and was the beginning of an amazing television career.

Jean often recounts her time on Designing Women with fondness and humor. In one interview, she joked about how the cast bonded over their shared dislike of their on-set wardrobes, saying, "We used to sit around and laugh about our shoulder pads. We looked like linebackers!"

Continued Success on Stage and Screen

After Designing Women, Jean Smart continued to build an impressive resume, taking on a variety of roles that showcased her range as an actress. She appeared in numerous television shows, including The District, and Frasier, where her role as Lana Gardner earned her two Primetime Emmy Awards. Her ability to seamlessly transition between drama and comedy solidified her status as a versatile performer.

Reflecting on her career, Jean once said, "I’ve been really lucky to play a lot of strong women who also happen to be funny." This sentiment captures the essence of her varied roles and her knack for blending strength and humor.

In addition to her television work, Jean also enjoyed a successful stage career. She performed in several Broadway productions, earning accolades for her performances. Notably, she received a Tony Award nomination for her role in "The Man Who Came to Dinner." Her stage work allowed her to reconnect with her theatrical roots and continue to grow as an artist.

Television Roles in the 2000s and Beyond

Jean's career continued to evolve with significant roles in the 2000s. She appeared in the television series 24, where she played the first lady, Martha Logan, a role that earned her critical acclaim and an Emmy nomination. Her husband Richard Gilliland also appeared in 24, creating a fun overlap between their professional lives.

In the 2010s, Jean further showcased her versatility with roles in Samantha Who?, and the critically acclaimed series Fargo, where she played Floyd Gerhardt. This role earned her another Emmy nomination, cementing her reputation as a powerhouse performer.

Recent Work and Accolades

Jean Smart's career has continued to flourish in recent years. Her performance in the critically acclaimed and runaway hit HBO Max series Hacks has earned her widespread recognition and numerous awards, including two Emmy awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. The role of Deborah Vance, a legendary stand-up comedian, allowed Jean to once again showcase her incredible talent and versatility. 

Discussing her role in Hacks, Jean noted, "Deborah is unlike any character I’ve played before, but she has pieces of my favorite roles all rolled into one." This quote highlights how the role encapsulates the breadth of her acting experience.

In another interview about her role in Hacks, Jean remarked, "I’m just thrilled to be playing a character who doesn’t get murdered by the end of the episode. It's a refreshing change!"

Jean’s versatility continued to shine in other notable roles, such as Laurie Blake in Watchmen, and Helen Fahey in Mare of Easttown. Each performance garnered critical acclaim and added to her impressive tally of awards. Jean has received a total of five Primetime Emmy Awards, reflecting her exceptional talent and enduring appeal.

Personal Life and Family

Beyond her professional achievements, Jean Smart's personal life is a testament to her strength and resilience. She and Richard Gilliland shared a deep bond and collaborated on several projects over the years. Together, they had two children, Connor and Bonnie.

Tragically, Richard Gilliland passed away in 2021. Jean's handling of this loss with grace and dignity touched the hearts of many. Her ability to navigate personal challenges while continuing to excel professionally is a source of inspiration for her fans.

Philanthropy and Interests

Outside of her acting career, Jean Smart is known for her philanthropic efforts, exemplifying ADPi’s “We live for each other” motto. She supports various charitable organizations, including the Alzheimer's Association, the American Heart Association, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Jean is also an advocate for children's literacy programs and has participated in events to promote reading among young people. 

In her free time, Jean enjoys a variety of hobbies and interests. She is an avid reader, with a preference for novels and biographies. She also has a passion for gardening, finding peace and creativity in cultivating her garden. We imagine these quiet, solitary activities are a perfect complement to her dynamic career.

The Legacy of Alpha Delta Pi

Jean Smart’s story is a shining example of the impact that sorority life can have on one's personal and professional development. While specific details about her college sorority experience are limited, we like to think that her time in Alpha Delta Pi provided her with a strong foundation, instilling values that have guided her throughout her career. We hope she experienced the sisterhood, support, and lifelong friendships ADPis form during college years!


Jean Smart’s life and career are a testament to her talent, resilience, and the enduring power of sisterhood. From her early days at the University of Washington and her time as a member of Alpha Delta Pi to her illustrious career in television and theater, Jean has remained true to herself and her values. Her story is one of inspiration and empowerment, reminding us all of the incredible potential that lies within each of us.

As sorority women, we can look to Jean Smart as a role model—a sister who has achieved great success while staying true to the principles and values that bind us together. Her journey encourages us to pursue our passions, support one another, and always strive for excellence in all that we do.