Born: August 10, 1933;

Died: February 14, 2020.

LYNN Cohen, who has died aged 86, was 60 before she got her big break in movies, thanks to Woody Allen casting her in the pivotal role in his acclaimed 1993 film, Manhattan Murder Mystery, alongside such big names as Diane Keaton and Anjelica Huston. Cohen had been acting in off-Broadway plays for years, but her screen credits before then were limited to walk-on roles as “receptionist” and “woman with dog”.

She would go on to appear in more than 100 films and TV shows, playing the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Munich, Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film about Israeli agents tracking down those responsible for the murder of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

Cohen was one of the competitors in Catching Fire (2013), the second instalment in the Hunger Games sci-fi series. And she was a regular on Sex and the City, both on TV in the early 2000s and later in the big-screen spin-offs, playing Magda, the East European housekeeper and nanny employed by lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon).

Cohen was born Lynn Harriette Kay into a Jewish family in Kansas City in 1933. She married young, but her first husband died in 1960. She re-married in 1964, to Ronald T Cohen, a writer, director and actor, and had adopted his surname when she began acting off-Broadway in the 1970s.

In Manhattan Murder Mystery she played Lillian House, a neighbour of a couple played by Allen and Keaton. They are surprised to find she has supposedly died of a heart attack when she had seemed so healthy the previous night. Keaton subsequently thinks she sees her on a passing bus. They trace her to a hotel and find her lying on the floor in her room, seemingly having died a second time.

The film was well received and suddenly Cohen’s screen career was looking decidedly healthy. “You may do one thing for a great deal of money so you can do three things that pay almost nothing,” she said. “That’s the way you balance that.” She told one interviewer she wanted to play strong women, not cliches, and she would not play a character who is “old and useless and sits in a corner and is dying of one thing or another”.

Magda was not her first recurring role in a hit TV show: she played a judge in a dozen episodes of Law and Order between 1993 and 2006. She first portrayed Magda on Sex and the City in 2000, would make occasional appearances on the show over the next five years, and appeared in the films in 2008 and 2010.

Munich was criticised for the way in which it blurred fact and fiction, with Cohen playing a real-life, iconic national leader at a time when women in such roles were rare. It was criticised specifically for equating Israeli agents with the terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman.

Interestingly, another historical and controversial real-life individual played by Cohen was Leni Riefenstahl, a talented film-maker whose work included the Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will (1935). Cohen played her in a little-seen, low-budget 2005 short, The Last Days of Leni Riefenstahl. Cohen continued making films and television shows right up until her death and had several in post-production.

Brian Pendreigh