June 10, 1947 |
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Randy M. "Randee" Heller (born June 10, 1947) is an American television and film actress. Her most notable roles were in the film The Karate Kid and one of its sequels, The Karate Kid, Part III, as Daniel Larusso's mother, and on the 1970s serial sitcom Soap as Jodie Dallas's roommate Alice, one of the first recurring lesbian characters in television history. She also had a starring role as Carol in the 1979 made-for-TV movie, Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze. Most recently she was seen in a recurring role on the series Mad Men as Bert Cooper and Don Draper's elderly secretary Ida Blankenship and on TV show Wilfred as Ryan's neighbor Margot.
Early life and career
Heller was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in West Hempstead, on Long Island. Her mother was raised in Brooklyn and her grandparents were from Russia. She began her career in musicals on Broadway in such shows as Grease, where she played Rizzo, and Godspell. She moved from New York to California in 1978. Her groundbreaking role as Alice on the TV series Soap received mixed reviews. The criticism at the time was not for her acting but for the stereotyping of her character. The role played into a television tradition of making lesbian characters psychologically troubled. The Boston Herald said that the characterization shows how "the networks have generally depicted lesbians either as suicidal losers or sexual predators." For example, it identifies Alice as "TV's first recurring lesbian character," noting that she "first tries to throw herself off a bridge, then falls for Jodie (Billy Crystal), a confused gay man, and finally runs off.".
Ahead of filming, producers ordered Heller's newly-permed hair straightened because she said the network insisted on normalizing her character. Of a later episode in which Alice introduces her girlfriend, Heller said, "I went to kiss her in rehearsals and they said, 'No no no … you can’t do that.' I said, 'But she’s my girlfriend!' 'No, no no no, we can’t do that, we just cannot do that.' So it was so careful, it was so delicate in those days that you couldn’t really do your thing. … They wanted me to be a heterosexual homosexual." Heller would appear as a lesbian character again in a 2010 episode of Grey's Anatomy "Almost Grown," playing the partner of a female patient with a brain tumor.
After leaving Soap, the actress went on to create the role of Lucille LaRusso in the Karate Kid series, appearing in the first and third installments. Her characterization generally received praise from critics, with reviewer Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune naming her absence from the second film as one of its greatest flaws: "Heller`s honest portrayal of a single parent trying to raise an adolescent was one of the genuine pleasures of the original film." Co-star Ralph Macchio agreed, stating in one interview with Siskel,
I argued for her [inclusion]. Those scenes with her were some of my favorites in the original – they had some real emotion – and I honestly don't know why she isn't there. I haven't seen the sequel, but (when the film focuses) just on Miyagi, well, he's a great character, but after a while he can become sort of a walking fortune cookie with all of his sayings.
Television guest appearances
Heller has made guest appearances in the television series Less Than Perfect, Mad Men, Nip/Tuck, Judging Amy, Felicity, the children's series Drake & Josh, Night Court, Fame, and The White Shadow, among many others. She had leading roles in three short-lived sitcoms, Second Chance (1987), "Better Days (TV series)," and Mama Malone (1984). Her TV-movie appearances include And Your Name is Jonah (1979). In 2000, Heller performed with Barbra Streisand in her concert Timeless, which was broadcast over American television.
Heller had a recurring role in the fourth season (2010) of AMC's Mad Men as Don Draper's secretary, Miss Blankenship. The character generated a large fan following, including a popular Facebook page. For this role she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Also, Randee was a regular on the one-season program Husbands, Wives & Lovers (1978).
Heller has also maintained a stage career, appearing in such productions as Bermuda Avenue Triangle, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, and Cabaret. Her role in Cabaret was particularly well received, with one reviewer remarking that
she proved in her first five minutes that she knows how to develop a character, command a stage and deliver a song. Heller made a role that seems peripheral in some productions into a central part of the story. When her engagement to her Jewish beau, Herr Schultz, is called off, it symbolizes many of the small human tragedies brought about by Nazi hate.
She also played the role of Barbra Streisand's mother in the stage performances of Streisand's Timeless concerts in 2000. Randee also had a guest appearance on an episode of ALF, where she plays a kleptomaniac mother of one of Brian's friends. Randee was also the voice that says "Hey Rock, you're a bum" in the first Rocky movie.
- Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Television Characters (1971-1980)
- Clifford Pugh. "Much ado about Ellen/Houstonians plan parties to watch tonight's controversial episode", Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1997, Houston section, page 1.
- "Gay TV history", The Orlando Sentinel, April 30, 1997, page E1.
- Taylor Cole Miller. "Don't Drop the Soap: American Television's Long-Lost Lesbian", The Huffington Post, May 28, 2013.
- Randee Heller at the Internet Movie Database
- Hochberg, Mina. "Q&A with Randee Heller", AMCtv.com, 19 September 2010.
- Jim Kershner. "Sandpoint schedule shaping up." The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), May 13, 2001, p. F3
- Mark A. Perigard. "Networks' record shows gay stereotyping", Boston Herald April 30, 1997, page 44.
- George Williams. "'The Karate Kid' doesn't have to fight to be a winner", Sacramento Bee, June 22, 1984, Scene section, page D.
- Gene Siskel. "In 'The Karate Kid Part II', Daniel and Miyagi are in the wrong fight", Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1986, p. 29
- Gene Siskel. "Ralph Macchio's baby face can't mask maturing talent", Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1986, Arts section, p. 10
- Jeff Murphy. "Walk down this 'Avenue' for a raucous night out", The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), January 21, 2006, p. D3
- Paul Hodgins. "'Allergist's Wife' finds sea legs - After a wobbly start, the comedy about Manhattan manners gathers steam and heads into a strong finale" (review), The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California), May 30, 2005, p. A
- Jim Kershner. "Dark musical: CdA Summer Theatre's `Cabaret' an entertaining show despite setting", The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), July 10, 2001, p. D7