Winifred Deforest Coffin

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Winifred Deforest Coffin
Winifred Coffin.jpg
Winifred Deforest Coffin
Winifred Deforest

(1911-10-16)October 16, 1911
DiedDecember 18, 1986(1986-12-18) (aged 75)
Other namesWinnie Collins, Winifred Collins
EducationConnecticut College
Years active1922—1976
SpouseDean Fiske Coffin
ChildrenFred Coffin and 4 others

Winifred "Winnie" Deforest Coffin (1911—1986) was an American character actress who did not start her Hollywood career until 1960 at age 50.[1][2][3] She appeared on a number of television shows, including The Red Skelton Show, The Ann Sothern Show and Adam-12[2][3][4] and movies such as Eight on the Lam, 'Angel in My Pocket, and Now You See Him, Now You Don't.[2][5][6]


Early life and education[edit]

Coffin was born Winifred Deforest on October 16, 1911, in Chicago, Illinois[citation needed] to Fred Bowden Deforest and his wife.[7] Her mother committed suicide when she was nine. At one time, the family lived on Lake Shore Drive.[8] Coffin attended Connecticut College and earned her bachelor's degree in 1933.[2] In 1929, while still a freshman, she met Brown University student Dean Fiske Coffin, son of former Republican Congressman Howard A. Coffin.[3] Dean was eight hours late to their blind date because Brown had won a football game against Princeton and he wanted to celebrate.[3] He felt bad and apologized profusely "after seeing her" and they rescheduled for the following week.[3] They married on April 7, 1934, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago before moving to Birmingham, Michigan, where all 5 of their children were born.[7][3]


Coffin started acting while in college and continued to act in community theatre productions following graduation, but she became serious about it in the early 1950s, when her younger sons were teenagers.[1][2] Some of the local productions she worked on were None of Them is Perfect (1935);[9] Light Up the Sky (1950);[10] Carousel (1950);[11] Courage Was the Fashion (1951);[12] The Child Buyer (1964);[13] and Cinderella.[13] She worked with companies including St. Dunstan's Theatre Guild, Birmingham Players, Ridgedale Players, and the Detroit Players.[1][3]

In 1959, while acting at Cranbrook's Greek Theatre in The Bloomingham Eccentrics, a play written and directed by her husband, Coffin was noticed by Hollywood writer DeVallon Scott.[1][3][14] Scott was impressed and called his agent Al Kingston after the show to tell him about Coffin.[14][15] Not long after, she moved to Hollywood, where she quickly found success.[1] Dean, the vice-president of Jam Handy's film company, resigned from his job in 1965 to join her; as a writer and director, he found himself in an oversaturated market.[1][7][3][16] The couple rented an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard on a property formerly owned by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.[14][3] She worked mainly in television and was a regular guest on The Red Skelton Show.[2][3] She was also in Bonanza, Bewitched, Lancer, and Perry Mason, among others.[2][3] Her last Hollywood appearance was on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1972.[1]

At the Birmingham Arts Festival in June 1962, Coffin starred in The Bloomingham Newcomers, the sequel to the 1959 The Bloomingham Eccentrics.[15] She also taught acting at Oakland University's Division of Continuing Education.[17]

Final years and death[edit]

After 10 years of living in the Los Angeles smog and a lifetime of smoking, Coffin developed a degenerative lung condition and emphysema, and she and her husband moved back to Detroit in 1972.[1][2][14][4][3] While visiting her son Tris and his family in Dedham, Massachusetts in 1980, she collapsed and was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital.[2] She was transferred to the nearby Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, "where she received extensive pulmonary rehabilitation.[2] Following her time in the hospital, Coffin wrote and narrated films for Hospice of Southeastern Michigan and the American Lung Association to help patients cope with chronic lung disease.[1][2][3] The following year, she began using a stationary oxygen tank, as her lungs were functioning at only 20% capacity.[4] She died on December 18, 1986 in her Birmingham, Michigan home.[1][2][18] At her death, she was survived by her 5 children, 6 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren, and a niece.[2] One of her great-grandchildren is named after her.[3]


Winnie and Dean had five children, four of which were sets of twins: Cella, their only daughter; Howard Alrich II (named after his grandfather) and Tristram "Tris"; and William "Bill" and Fred (1933).[13][19][1][3] They became grandparents in 1968 when Tris and his wife Mary had twins.[20] One of his sons, Alexander, was diagnosed with cancer as a young child and met Ronald Reagan in 1985 after writing him to sympathize with his cancer diagnosis.[2][21] Alexander raised $6,000 for the American Cancer Society's Ta-Kum-Ta, a camp for kids with cancer, and passed away in June 1986 at age 14 from a brain tumor.[2] Dean Coffin died in 1992[22] and their son Fred died in 2003 of lung cancer.[23]



Year Title Role Episodes Notes Ref
?? Gunsmoke [2]
1960 Riverboat Mrs. Donlan "The Sellout" Uncredited [24][25]
The Ann Sothern Show Miss Bentley 2 [1][2]
Route 66 Mrs. Hastings "Three Sides" [2][15]
1960—1961 The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis Bridge Player/Dr. Carlotta Kaggel 2 [1][2]
1961 The Detectives Charwoman "Power Failure" [15]
1965 Honey West Masseuse "The Swingin' Mrs. Jones" [26][27]
Bewitched Nanny Witch "My Grandson, the Warlock" [26]
Bonanza Widow Smith/Edna Brown 2 [1][2]
Perry Mason Willa Saint Sutton "The Casa of the Wrathful Wraith" [1]
1966 Petticoat Junction Mrs. Jessop "Betty Jo Catches the Bouquet" [4]
Death Valley Days Bessie Brenner "The Resurrection of Deadwood Dick" [4][28]
1968 The Red Skelton Show Mother-in-Law (Silent Spot) 10 [1][2]
The High Chaparral Woman #1 "Tornado Frances" [29]
1970 The Beverly Hillbillies Mrs. Bertha Hewes "The Clampett-Hewes Empire" [citation needed]
Lancer Anne 'Gus' Guthrie "The Lorelei" [1][2]
My Three Sons Effie Springer "Charley's Cello" [2]
The Debbie Reynolds Show Grandma Morton "The Producer" [citation needed]
1971 The Doris Day Show Agnes/Clara Bixby 2 [30]
1971—1972 Adam-12 Mrs. Ruth Fowler/Mrs. Kovacs/Mrs. Sullivan 3 [4]
1972 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Spoof of Nicholas and Alexandra [1][2]


Year Title Role Notes Ref
1966 Brigadoon Television movie [28]
1967 Eight on the Lam [1][2]
1969 Angel in My Pocket [5]
1971 The Million Dollar Duck Agitated Woman Driver Uncredited [31]
1972 Now You See Him, Now You Don't Secretary Uncredited [6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Ball, Zachare (1986-12-20). "Actress had 1,000 grimaces and a fine flair for comedy". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y "Character actress Winifred Coffin performed many TV roles; at 74". The Boston Globe. Boston, MA. 1986-12-20 – via
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wilkerson, Isabel (1950-12-17). "Golden show-biz memories". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  4. ^ a b c d e f May, Jeanne (1983-12-21). "Breathing gear packed, actress heads for Boston". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  5. ^ a b "In 'Angel'". Los Angeles Evening Citizen. Los Angeles, CA. 1968-05-11 – via
  6. ^ a b "Film on Israeli Air Force". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, CA. 1971-06-02 – via
  7. ^ a b c "Edith Cummings and Charlotte Cushman become brides". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, IL. 1934 – via
  8. ^ Myers, Ethel (1933-08-01). "'Maid's Night Out' Dinners Continue at Country Club". The Akron Beacon Journal. Akron, OH – via
  9. ^ "Ridgedale Players produce second program of season". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1935-02-24 – via
  10. ^ "This is the first of six comedies". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1950-06-18 – via
  11. ^ "Civic light opera's". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1950-12-17 – via
  12. ^ "Leads named in birthday production". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1951-06-21 – via
  13. ^ a b c "Connecticut College alumnae news". Connecticut College Alumnae News. Vol. 42, no. 2. Connecticut College Alumnae Association. 1965. p. 31. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  14. ^ a b c d Pomeroy, David (1978-05-21). "California dreamers: Some came back". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  15. ^ a b c d "Arts show starts Thursday". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1962-06-17 – via
  16. ^ Beltaire, Mark (1965-08-24). "The suicidal sea horses - The Passing Parade". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  17. ^ "Lively arts offered at OU". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1964-06-08 – via
  18. ^ "Connecticut College alumnae news". Connecticut College Alumnae News. Vol. 64, no. 3. Connecticut College Alumnae Association. 1987. p. 19. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  19. ^ "Connecticut College alumnae news". Connecticut College Alumnae News. Vol. 22, no. 3. Connecticut College Alumnae Association. 1943. p. 19. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  20. ^ "Twos-of-a-kind". Valley Times. North Hollywood, CA. 1968-06-26 – via
  21. ^ "Alexander Coffin, cancer victim, had met with President Reagan". The Boston Globe. Boston, MA. 1986-06-30 – via
  22. ^ "Coffin". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1992-08-20 – via
  23. ^ "Frederick Coffin". Variety. 2003-08-04. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  24. ^ Cain, Ira (1960-04-18). "Riverboat will present its final live show tonight". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Fort Worth, TX – via
  25. ^ "N.B.C. trade releases". Archive. NBC. 1960. Retrieved 2021-12-23.
  26. ^ a b Peterson, Bettelou (1965-08-25). "New shows from local studios: Messrs. Truman, Griffin, and Magoo". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  27. ^ "Friday evening television". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI. 1966-08-19 – via
  28. ^ a b Beltaire, Mark (1966-09-15). "Bob won't die trying - The Passing Parade". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, MI – via
  29. ^ "Temperance group in 'Chaparral'". Progress Bulletin. Pomona, CA. 1968-10-02 – via
  30. ^ Santopietro, Tom. Considering Doris Day: A Biography.
  31. ^ Arnold, Mark. Frozen in Ice: The story of Walt Disney Productions, 1966-1985.

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