Inga Swenson, ‘Benson’s’ Tough Cookie Kraus, Dies @ 90

Inga Swenson, the Broadway star who played stern Kraus on the sitcom Benson, died July 23 at 90.

A memorable Golden Girls guest star (Image via video still)

THR confirmed with her son, Mark Harris, that she died in hospice care.

Born December 29, 1932, in Omaha, she studied under Alvina Krause at Northwestern. She also studied at the Actors Studio and under Uta Hagen.

A trained soprano, she made her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1956 with Maggie Smith, Jane Connell, Billie Hayes, and others. She appeared in 1957's The First Gentleman, in productions for the American Shakespeare Company of Connecticut, and understudied Julie Andrews in Camelot.

Swenson was twice nominated for the Tony — for 110 in the Shade (1963) and Baker Street (1965) — and continued acting on the stage through the 1970s.

Her most important film work came early — she starred in Otto Preminger's Advise & Consent (1962) and was Helen Keller's mother in The Miracle Worker (1962) — though she also appeared in Lipstick (1976), The Betsy (1978), and The Mountain Men (1980).

It was on TV that Swenson made the most indelible impact. She was so convincing as Teutonic taskmistress Gretchen Kraus on Benson that most fans assumed she really was German. She played the part from 1979-1986.

Other highlights of her 40 years on TV (1957-1998) included playing the mother of Hoss Cartwright (Dan Blocker) on two episodes of Bonanza (1962 & 1963), Maude Hazard in both North & South (1985) and North & South: Book 2 (1986), Rose's "jackass" sister Holly on a 1989 episode of The Golden Girls, and Grandma Helga on two episodes of Life with Louie (1997 & 1998), the latter of which became her final work as an actress.

Preceded in death by her son James in 1987, Swenson is survived by her husband of 70 years, West Side Story actor Lowell Harris; her son Mark Harris, an assistant editor; and her granddaughter Lily.

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