Friday, April 19, 2019

Farewell Georgia Engel. We'll miss you, Georgette!

Sad news indeed!  Georgia Engel, best known for her portrayal of Georgette Franklin Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. has passed away.  She died on April 12, 2019 in Princeton, New Jersey at the age of 70.  Georgia was a wonderful comedic actress and during her career, she garnered five Primetime Emmy nominations.  Her most distinctive characteristic was her soft, gentle, childlike voice, which retired Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian likened to that of an angel who has "just sniffed some helium."  Her voice was her trademark and when she became angry, it was difficult not to laugh.

Georgia Bright Engel was born in Washington, D.C. on July 28, 1948, the daughter of Ruth Caroline (née Hendron) and Benjamin Franklin Engel, a Coast Guard Admiral.  In 1966, Georgia graduated from high school at the Academy of Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C.  She intended to become a ballerina.before deciding on a career as an actress.  In her profile, Georgia is quoted as saying the following: : "As a young teenager when I was attending ballet school, my teacher told me I'd never be a ballerina. and I was never much of a singer, but I get leading roles in musical theater because of the comedy.  I consider comedy a special gift to me.  So many people ask if I hate doing similar roles but I try to explain that even within the specialized areas of light comedy and ditzy blondes, there are wonderful nuances that are infinitely interesting to me."

 After high school, Georgia performed in summer stock and then joined her family in Honolulu, Hawaii.  She earned a degree in drama from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1969 and then  returned to Washington, D.C. where she performed in musical productions with the American Light Opera Company.  She later appeared off-Broadway in Lend an Ear and at the age of 22, made her Broadway debut as Minnie Fay in the original Broadway production of Hello Dolly!.

In 1971, Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, producer Grant Tinker saw Georgia perform when the off-Broadway production of The House of Blue Leaves played in Los Angeles.  They were impressed by how funny she was and a few months later, she was summoned to the MTM Studios and asked to play a role created especially for her.  She made her mark as the seemingly naive Georgette Franklin, girlfriend and eventual wife of pompous anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) on Mary's TV show.  However, Georgette was not your garden variety stereotypical "dumb blonde."  Although often underestimated, she possessed a certain wisdom.  "The writers had fun with that," Engel told the San Francisco Examiner in 2017.  "She looked like the dumbest one of the group and sometimes they'd have her say the wisest thing."

The Mary Tyler Moor Show ran from 1970 until 1977, but Georgia Engel,did not join the cast until the sitcom's third season in 1972.  Her "Georgette" character first appeared in an episode entitled "Rhoda Morgestern:  Minneapolis to New York" (Season 3, Episode 14, Air Date: December 16, 1972).  In the episode, Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) plans a farewell party for her friend Rhoda (Valerie Harper) who has decided to accept a job at Bloomingdale's in New York.  Georgette, Rhoda's co-worker, shows up at the party as Ted's new girlfriend.  Her interaction with Mary's gruff boss, Lou Grant (Edward Asner) is hilarious.

Georgia Engel's role as Georgette was originally intended to be for a single episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  In a 2007 interview with the Toronto Star, Georgia provided the following explanation for how she became a regular cast member:  "It was only going to be one episode and I was just supposed to have a few lines in a party scene, but they kept giving me more an more to do."  The following Monday, she received a potted plant with a note welcoming her to the Mary Tyler Moore family.

Georgette had a heart of gold and she made the blustery, buffoonish Ted a better person.  My favourite Georgette quote occurred in a scene when Mary asks Georgette if she knows what she is doing by marrying Ted.  She replies, "Yes.  Somebody has to love him."  In other words, Georgette was not so naive that she was unaware of Ted's many flaws, but she was willing to accept him for what he was.  She also recognized his better qualities.

Of co-star Ted Knight, who passed away in 1986, Georgia told the Toronto Star that she "liked him very much, but to tell the honest truth, the writers took a kernel of truth from all of us and then magnified it in our characters.  Ted never recovered from (series co-creator) Allan Burns asking him, 'How does it feel to be the country's biggest schmuck?"

Wedding of Ted and Georgette
After The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in 1977, Georgia Engel had roles in three short-lived series: The Betty White Show (1977-78) along with Betty played who Sue Ann Nivens on The MTM Show, Goodtime Girls (1980) and Jennifer Slept Here (1993-1994).  From 1991 until 1997, Georgia portrayed Shirley Burleigh on the hit football-themed comedy Coach.

Georgia reprised her role as Georgette for a 1992 episode of the sitcom Hi Honey, I'm Home.  In the episode, entitled "Elaine Takes a Wife" (Season 2, Episode 7, Air Date: July 19, 1992), Georgette teaches a motivational course.

In 2000, Georgia'mother died and she took a break from acting.  She trained to be a careguver in the mission facility part of her church, but found that "my gift was more for changing laughter than bedpans."

In 2001, Georgia returned to the stage and toured with I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden in the female version of The Odd Couple.  From 2003 to 2005, Georgia played Pat MacDougal, mother-in-law of Robert Barone (Brad Garrett), on Everybody Loves Raymond.  Upon learning of Georgia's death, her Raymond co-star Patricia Heaton tweeted "I am in shock.  Georgia was an absolute angel - so dear, so sweet, so talented."

In more recent years, Georgia Engel worked largely in theatre and lived in New York City.  In 2007, however, she appeared as  Ezmerialda in six episodes of the soap opera Passions. She also portrayed  Irene in three 2012 episodes of The Office.  From 2012 to 2016, she had a recurring role on the sitcom Hot in Cleveland, where she was reunited with her Mary Tyler Moore Show co-star Betty White. In fact, she played Mamie Sue Johnson, the best friend of Betty's character, Elka.  After Georgia's death, the 97-year-old White posted this tribute to her on Instagram: "Friends forever says it all."  The two women were animal lovers and Betty's tribute to Georgia was accompanied by a photo of the pair snuggling against a bear.

Georgia final television credit was a 2018 appearance as Sister Barbara on a an episode of the remake of One Day at a Time entitled "Homecoming" (Season 2, Episode 11, Air Date: January 26, 2018).

Georgia Engel never married and did not have any children.  She is survived by her two older sisters, Robin Engel (Miss Hawaii of 1967) of Canyon Lake, Texas and Penny Lusk of Cheriton, Virginia,  numerous nieces and nephews and two aunts.

Georgia was an adherent of Christian Science.  Her friend, John Quilty, informed The New York Times that the cause of her death was unknown since, due to her religious beliefs, she did not seek advice from doctors.  Her funeral home obituary states that she died of "natural causes."

In an Archive of American Television interview, Ed Asner had this to say about Georgia Engel: "She doesn't belong on this Earth.  She's too good for this Earth.  And in a way, she shows how angels can defy desecration by mankind.


Closer Weekly, "Remembering the Late Georgia Engel from 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Everybody Loves Raymond'' by Ed Gross, April 16, 2019; San Francisco Examiner, "Georgia Engel explores sounds of silences in 'John" by Robert Sokol, March 2, 2017; Toronto Star, "Drowsy woke Engel's career" by Richard Ouzounian, October 10, 2007, Wickipedia;; Yahoo News

- Joanne

No comments:

Post a Comment