|This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2013)|
Kathleen Freeman in the late 1960s
February 17, 1919|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||August 23, 2001
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Lung cancer|
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Religion||Religious Science International|
Kathleen Freeman (February 17, 1919 – August 23, 2001) was an American film, television, and stage actress. In a career that spanned more than fifty years, she portrayed acerbic maids, secretaries, teachers, busybodies, nurses, and battle-axe neighbors, almost invariably to comic effect.
Freeman was born in Chicago, Illinois. She began her career as a child, dancing in her parents' vaudeville act. After a stint studying music at University of California, Los Angeles, she went into acting full time, working on the stage, and finally entering films in 1948. She was a founding member, in 1946, of the Circle Players at The Circle Theatre, now known as El Centro Theatre.
Freeman's most notable early role was an uncredited part in the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, as Jean Hagen's articulate diction coach Phoebe Dinsmore. In 1954, Freeman played receptionist Miss Seely for lawyer Adam Calhorn Shaw (Edmund Purdom) in Athena. Beginning with the 1954 film Three Ring Circus, Freeman became a favorite foil of Jerry Lewis, playing opposite him in 11 films. These included most of Lewis's better known comedies, including The Disorderly Orderly as Nurse Higgins, The Errand Boy as the studio boss's wife, and especially The Nutty Professor as Millie Lemon. Over 30 years later, she made a small cameo appearance in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, a sequel to the remake of the Lewis film.
Still other film roles included appearances in The Missouri Traveler (1958), the horror film The Fly (1958), the Western spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and appearances in a spate of comedies in the 1980s and 1990s. Freeman played Sister Mary Stigmata (referred to as The Penguin) in John Landis' The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, had cameos in Joe Dante's Innerspace and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (as tipsy cooking host Microwave Marge in 2), and a Ma Barker type gangster mother in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.
In addition to teaching acting classes in Los Angeles, California, Freeman was also a familiar presence on television. In 1958 and 1959, she appeared three times on the NBC western, Buckskin, with Tom Nolan, Sally Brophy, and Mike Road, a children's program set in a hotel in a fictitious Montana town. Her roles were in the episodes "The Gold Watch" and "Tell Me, Leonardo" (both 1958) and "The Venus Adjourner" (1959).
Freeman appeared from the 1950s until her death in regular or recurring roles on many sitcoms, including six episodes of The Bob Cummings Show (as Bertha Krause), Topper (as Katie the maid), and The Donna Reed Show (as Mrs. Celia Wilgus, the Stone's busybody next door neighbor, with Howard McNear as her husband, Wilbur). She was cast on Hogan's Heroes (as Frau Gertrude Linkmeyer, General Burkhalter's sister, who longed to wed Colonel Klink), Funny Face (as Mrs. Kate Harwell, Sandy Duncan's landlady and friend), I Dream of Jeannie (as a grouchy supervisor in a false preview of Maj. Nelson's future), the short-lived prehistoric sitcom It's About Time (as Mrs. Boss), and as the voice of Peg Bundy's mom, an unseen character on Married... with Children.
She played guest roles on countless other shows, such as Bourbon Street Beat, Guestward, Ho!, The Lucy Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Home Improvement. She played Sister Agnes in an episode of The Golden Girls. Freeman was considered for the part of Alice the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch, the role that ultimately went to Ann B. Davis.
In 1969, Freeman made a guest appearance on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., playing Sergeant Carter's mother in the episode "I'm Always Chasing Gomers." She costarred in the 1973-74 sitcom Lotsa Luck, playing Dom DeLuise's mother.
In later years, Freeman also worked extensively as a voice actress, playing Ma Crackshell on DuckTales, a Theban woman in Disney's Hercules, a matriarchal criminal called "Ma Mayhem" in the series Batman Beyond in the episode "The Eggbaby", and fortune teller Madame Xima in the video game Curse of Monkey Island.
Freeman remained active in her last two years, with a regular voice role on As Told By Ginger, a voice bit in the animated feature film Shrek, a guest appearance on the sitcom Becker and, most notably, scoring a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for her role of accompanist Jeannette Burmeister in the Broadway musical version of The Full Monty.
In her final episode of As Told By Ginger, Season 2's "No Hope For Courtney", Freeman's character, Mrs. Gordon, retires from her teaching job although two of her students try convincing her to return to work. The script was originally written to have Mrs. Gordon come back to work, but Freeman died before the episode was finished. The script was then re-written and Mrs. Gordon died as well. The episode was dedicated in her memory.
Weakened by illness, Freeman was forced to leave the Full Monty cast. Five days later, she died of lung cancer at age 82. Her ashes are inurned in a niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. British reports of her death included her surviving long-time companion, Helen Ramsey, but U.S. obituaries did not.
- Jesse McKinley (August 24, 2001). "Kathleen Freeman, 78, Actress Playing Comic Character Roles". The New York Times.
- "Jerry Lewis tells it like it is — and was", USA Today, 29 August 2002. retrieved 6 March 2009.
- Obituary: Kathleen Freeman
- Kathleen Freeman at the Internet Movie Database
- Kathleen Freeman at the Internet Broadway Database
- Kathleen Freeman Remembered
- TonyAwards.com Interview with Kathleen Freeman
- Kathleen Freeman at Find a Grave