Philadelphia actor and public relations consultant Sylvia Kauders died May 4 at Hahnemann University Hospital at the age of 94.
The dynamic Center City and Manhattan resident was born and raised in South Philadelphia, and went to Upper Darby High School and the University of Pennsylvania.
After attending secretarial school, she began work in the field of public relations, where she distinguished herself with numerous award-winning municipal campaigns that heightened the profile of the City of Philadelphia.
“I worked with five mayors,” Kauders said in a recent interview with the Exponent — some of whom she liked more than others, she added with a laugh. “But they were all interesting to work for.”
She served as the special events director for the City of Philadelphia, creating and marketing high-profile events like Freedom Week, Miss Liberty Belle and the Yankee Doodle Dandy program.
The pinnacle of her PR career came when she won the Silver Anvil — the Oscar of the public relations field — for her Wednesday Is for Women campaign, which brought visitors to City Hall. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Philadelphia Public Relations Association Hall of Fame.
Even as she was successful in one career, she simultaneously pursued her great other love: acting. She appeared on Broadway, off-Broadway, in major motion pictures, TV series and commercials.
Her favorite stage role was Bubbie in the off-Broadway production of Crossing Delancey. On TV, she mined her South Philadelphia upbringing for a recurring role of Mrs. Conte on The Sopranos. (“I made sure to say ‘Ant-ny’ rather than ‘Anthony,’” she recently explained.) Other TV appearances included Spin City with Michael J. Fox, Orange Is the New Black, Law & Order, Louie, 30 Rock (with fellow Upper Darby alum Tina Fey), Sex and the City and Rescue Me.
Her first Hollywood film role was with Harrison Ford in Witness, in which she played a tourist trying to take his photo. She also appeared in several Woody Allen films; City Hall with Al Pacino and Danny Aiello; My Life with Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman; Analyze That with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro; Predator 2; Adam Sandler’s Mr. Deeds; The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke; and American Splendor with Paul Giamatti. She was especially proud of the work she did in the recent Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis.
In addition to films, TV and local stage work, she was known for her work in commercials, from playing “Meemaw” for Visa in a 2012 Super Bowl ad to a Toyota spot with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Longtime friend Gloria Hochman met Kauders when Hochman was starting out in public relations.
“I was always impressed by how creative she was, and how much she didn’t mind going out on a limb, saying things other people wouldn’t,” Hochman said. “She often expressed views that were sometimes unpopular, but then people began to think about it and say, ‘She’s probably right.’”
Hochman also marveled at her ability to multitask.
“She was amazing,” said Hochman, “to be able to have two careers and to excel in both of them.”
Hochman described Kauders as a fiercely independent woman who pounded the pavements in New York for auditions like someone half her age.
“She lived to perform.”
Kauders served as past president of the Philadelphia chapter of American Women in Radio and Television, Women in Communications, which honored her with the coveted Sarah award for Lifetime Achievement. She also was a member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2012.
She was a member of Actors Equity Association and was active with SAG-AFTRA, which recently named a studio at its headquarters in her honor.
An avid reader, Kauders was an active supporter of the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Curtis Institute of Music. She also supported the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation, the American Jewish History Museum, the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Theater Company, the World Affairs Council and a host of other civic and cultural entities. She was a charter member of Women for Greater Philadelphia and served on its board for many years.
As an appreciative alumnus of her beloved University of Pennsylvania, she remained active in university events and endowed a luncheon series at Penn’s Kelly Writers House, as well as a fund for the Penn Libraries for the acquisition of presidential materials.
In honor of her late husband, Randle, an engineer, she established a scholarship in electrical engineering at Technion University.
Upon her death, she directed the establishment of the Kauders Foundation to give financial support to projects promoting historical and cultural organizations, education, the performing arts, government, health and human services and recreational activities.
The PPRA released a statement today regarding Kauders’ passing: “She undoubtedly has dedicated more time to our association than any other volunteer and has served as an advisor, mentor, friend and favorite actress to many of our members. In December, we honored her as one of the first three recipients of our 50-Year Club, which we branded in her name. Sylvia’s legacy will continue through PPRA.”
For more about Kauders’ life, see our profile in “Good Life,” which comes out May 12.