A schooled stage actress, Inga Swenson became nationally known as the formidable Gretchen Kraus, bane of Robert Guillaume's existence on the long-running ABC series "Benson" (1979-1986). She so convincingly played the German-born housekeeper that some might find it difficult to believe she was born and raised in Omaha, NE. Swenson later played the matriarch Maude Hazzard on "North and South" (ABC, 1985) and its sequel, and Matt Frewer's mother on "Doctor, Doctor" (CBS, 1990-1991).
From the age of 15, Swenson was acting professionally on stage, debuting in summer stock as the maid in "Peg o' My Heart" at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, MA. She made her Broadway debut as one of the "New Faces of '56" before training under Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Highlights of her prolific stage career include Princess Charlotte in "The First Gentleman" (1957), for which she won an Outer Circle Critics Award. She won another Outer Critics Circle Award, and also was nominated for a Tony Award for her work as the aging spinster Lizzie in "110 in the Shade", a musicalized version of "The Rainmaker", which she played on Broadway in 1963, on tour from 1963-1964, and in London in 1967. Swenson received another Tony nomination for the Sherlock Holmes musical "Baker Street" (1965). She also spent a season with the American Shakespeare Festival in 1958, where she played Ophelia and has played classic roles ranging from Desdemona in an Arena Stage (Washington, DC) production of "Othello" (1963), to Eliza Doolittle in a 1968 Broadway revival of "My Fair Lady".
Swenson's TV work began with a singing performance on the Canadian Broadcasting Company's "Chrysler Special" (1957). Trivia enthusiasts may recall that she played the mother of Hoss Cartwright in several flashback episodes of "Bonanza" (NBC), beginning in 1962. Swenson made her TV-movie debut in 1971 playing a Russian member of a space outpost in "Earth II" (ABC) and later co-starred in "Testimony of Two Men" (syndicated, 1977), and played stage star Nora Bayes in "Ziegfeld: The Man and His Women" (NBC, 1978). Her feature film work has been sporadic: she was the wife of a closeted homosexual in "Advise and Consent" (1962) and was mother to Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker" (1962). Swenson also appeared as a nun in "Lipstick" (1976) and had a small role in "The Betsy" (1978).