Kaye Ballard, Larger-Than-Life Stage & Screen Star, Dies @ 93

Kaye Ballard, the wisecracking, broad-comedienne perhaps best remembered for a two-year stint on TV's The Mothers-in-Law, has died. She was 93.

Kaye Ballard: November 20, 1925-January 21, 2019 (Image by Frances McLaughlin-Gill)

According to an extensive and warm obit in The Desert Sun, Ballard had suffered from a heart malady, and slipped away Monday evening at her Rancho Mirage home. Her death comes a week after the death of her friend and neighbor, Carol Channing, at 97.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 20, 1925, Ballard became a well-known featured player onstage in musical comedies, quickly becoming known for her catchphrase, "Good luck with your mouth!"

She honed her skills as part of a Spike Jones (1911-1965) tour, in which she was a featured vocalist and a "girl tuba player."

Ballard made her Broadway debut in Three to Make Ready (1946), and appeared in the 1950 London production of Touch and Go. On Broadway, Ballard introduced "Lazy Afternoon" in The Golden Apple (1954), a hit whose B-side was the first recording of "Fly Me to the Moon." Among other huge successes, Ballard was Rosalie in Carnival! (1961) and Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance (1981). In 1998, she was Hattie Walker in the critically acclaimed Paper Mill Playhouse revival of Follies. Her final stage performance was in Doin' It for Love (2012) in Austin and Los Angeles.

Start steppin'! (Image via CBS)

She made her TV debut in 1951 on Henry Morgan's Great Talent Hunt, and made a lasting impression alongside Alice Ghostley (1923-2007) in the Julie Andrews (b. 1935) original TV musical Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella as one of the wicked stepsisters.

Ballard displayed comic chemistry to spare opposite Eve Arden (1908-1990) on The Mothers-in-Law (1967-1969) and as no-nonsense Angie Pallucci on The Doris Day Show (1970-1972), and made dozens of episodic TV appearances.

Never as utilized in film, Ballard debuted in 1958's The Girl Most Likely and had unforgettable bit parts in The Ritz (1976) and Freaky Friday (1976), the latter of which perhaps playfully alluding to her rumored — but never acknowledged — sexual orientation. The never-married Ballard acknowledged she had emotional bonds with women in her 2004 memoir, How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years, but did not go further than that.

With Ruth Buzzi (b. 1936) in Freaky Friday (Image via Disney)

Among many other achievements, Ballard was the perfect Lucy van Pelt on the hit 1962 record Peanuts.

Ballard announced she was retiring in 2015. She is reported to have filmed a small role in a comedy called Senior Moment several years ago, but the film has no release date. Prior to that, her last film role was in 2000's The Million Dollar Kid.

In 2018, a documentary on Ballard's life — Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On — was completed, and became a great source of pride for the aging performer. The film screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in January, luring Ballard to make a personal appearance. She was reportedly swarmed by well-wishers in her wheelchair, and was thrilled when the film received ovations and was deemed one of the fest's best, warranting an added screening.

Actor Gavin MacLeod, 87, said of the doc:

“The irony of all this is, you can go back a year, a year-and-a-half, and PBS did a movie on Rose Marie’s life. And Rosie died I think three days later. Kaye said, ‘I want my movie to be better than Rosie’s.’ Then Kaye’s movie is shown at the festival, and then the award, and then she goes. It’s like these two dynamite personalities got a chance to see their lives flash in front of them on screen before they said, ‘Bye-bye.’”

Bye-bye to a funnylady who will be sorely missed.

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