Peggy Pope, the comedic actress whose line "atta girl!" in 1980's 9 to 5 became a classic movie quote, died May 27 in Fort Collins, Colorado. She had just turned 91.
Variety reports that Pope's family made the announcement of her death, and promises a June 27 celebration of life.
Born Florence Margaret Pope in Montclair, New Jersey, on May 15, 1929, she was a theater major at Smith. Making her Broadway debut opposite Wally Cox (1924-1973) in Moonbirds (1959), she won an Obie for her work in Muzeeka (1968), starred in The Rose Tattoo (1966) with Maureen Stapleton (1925-2006), and appeared again on the Great White Way with Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) in 1970's Harvey.
She had many other stage appearances, including one she told Richard Skipper ranked as her most memorable:
"One of Peggy's favorite memories in her career occurred when she was playing Agnes Gooch opposite Ann Miller's [1923-2004] Mame in stock . There is a moment when Agnes returns home after learning to 'Live! Live! Live!' She tries to sit on the low, low, low Japanese sofa. Even though it had been staged one way, Peggy thought, 'Wouldn't it be hilarious if Agnes missed the sofa?' She could never quite get that to work. One night, it did! She missed, hit the floor, and the audience was howling. The musicians in the pit were laughing. Everyone was laughing! That is, everyone but Ann Miller. She didn't know what to do. She was used to the movies. You never deviated from what was on the written page. She was so upset she called Peg Murray [b. 1924] at four in the morning and asked her if Peggy Pope was going to do that again. Peg Murray told her, 'I hope so.' The stage manager, at Ann Miller's request, asked her to cut it out. Ann did not get the laugh. She didn't understand it.
Pope made her TV debut in 1966 on an episode of The Trials of O'Brien, and went on to guest on such shows as Bewitched (1968), Barney Miller (six episodes, 1977-1982), Rhoda (1978), Barnaby Jones (1978), Mork & Mindy (1980), Eight Is Enough (1978 & 1980), Knots Landing (1981), Hill Street Blues (1985), St. Elsewhere (1986) and The Golden Girls (1986).
She was a recurring character on Soap (1979-1980), and a regular on several short-lived series.
She appeared in the films Made for Each Other (1971), Oh, God! (1977), All Night Long (1981), The Last Starfighter (1984), Once Bitten (1985) and her last film, Ass Backwards (2013), among others.
But it was 9 to 5's Margaret that became her indelible mark on entertainment. Borne of an era when gentle humor about alcoholics was still unexamined, Margaret was the lovable office lush, and she stood out even in a cast headed up by Jane Fonda (b. 1937), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939) and Dolly Parton (b. 1946). In the end, her character is sent to rehab when the women take over their work environment, and returns a new woman, giving the worn cliché of the funny drunk a decidedly feminist, into-the-'80s twist.
"No way did I star in that film. I had a few lines in a well-written [movie] based on true stories that starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. And I got to say two words — 'atta girl!' — three times, and got remembered for it. Stranger things have happened." — Peggy Pope, Call Me Adam (2012)
She went on to appear on Nine to Five (1982), the unsuccessful TV spin-off of the film.
In 2012, Pope published Atta Girl: Tales from a Life in the Trenches of Show Business, which she joked that she did "when Betty White took over all the parts for women our age."