Kaye Ballard, star of sitcom ‘The Mothers-In-Law’ and Broadway, dies at 93

SHARE Kaye Ballard, star of sitcom ‘The Mothers-In-Law’ and Broadway, dies at 93

In this Feb. 27, 1984 file photo, actress Kaye Ballard is photographed during an interview in her New York apartment. | AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis, File

Kaye Ballard, a decorated Broadway veteran and actress who appeared in “The Mothers-In-Law” and “The Doris Day Show,” died Monday night at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, at 93.

Earlier this month, Ballard had been in attendance at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where she watched herself, larger than life, in a screening of her documentary, “Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On.”

“I loved that she was at the theater the night the film opened at the festival,” said Festival Chairman Harold Matzner. “She received a serenade of applause from all the people who gathered from a sold-out performance. I’m sure she loved that. I’m glad it was finished in time for her to see it and enjoy it.”

Ballard had one of the most illustrious careers in show business in the mid-20th century. She first exhibited her talents in Cleveland, where she was born Catherine Gloria Balotta to Italian emigrant parents.

She was doing impressions of French entertainment legend Maurice Chevalier at age 5. She developed into a painter, singer, actor, musician and comic impressionist. Ballard was offered a scholarship to Cleveland Art College, but chose to perform instead in vaudeville.

A stage producer in Detroit was so impressed by her multiple talents, he recommended her to Spike Jones, the most popular comic big band leader of the Swing Era. Ballard bought a one-way plane ticket to L.A. and landed a job as a singer and a comic tuba player with his band.

When Jones’ band went on tour to New York, Ballard got a chance to see Laurette Taylor in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” which inspired her to get serious about acting, and Ethel Merman in Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” which convinced her to go into musical theater.

Ballard made her Broadway debut in 1946 when she was invited by someone who had seen her with Jones to join the cast of the musical “Three To Make Ready.”

From there, she did such shows as “Touch and Go,” which included a Royal Command Performance for King George VI, which got her an introduction to the future Queen Elizabeth; “Top Banana” with Phil Silvers, in which she replaced Rose Marie for the road tour, and “The Golden Apple,” which landed her on the cover of Life Magazine and enabled her to introduce the standard, “Lazy Afternoon.”

Throughout the rest of her life, with all of the other endeavors she tried, including film, record albums and and a book, Ballard always came back to the stage.

Actress Kaye Ballard attends the World Premiere of “Broadway Beyond the Golden Age” at the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 7, 2016 in Palm Springs, California. | Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

Actress Kaye Ballard attends the World Premiere of “Broadway Beyond the Golden Age” at the 27th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival on January 7, 2016 in Palm Springs, California. | Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

Her list of theatrical credits in New York and around the country include “Carnival,” “Gypsie,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Sheba,” “High Spirits,” a female version of “The Odd Couple,” “Funny Girl,” “Chicago,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Look Ma, I’m Dancin’,” “Minnie’s Boys,” and “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Other notable productions included “Nunsense,” which won a Carbonell Award for South Florida theater, “4 Girls 4,” which she performed at the McCallum Theatre,” and “The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies,” where she appeared as a guest artist as an opportunity to sell copies of her book, “How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years: Kaye Ballard, A Memoir,” in the lobby in 2004.

She toured with two critically acclaimed one-woman shows, “Kaye Ballard — Working 42nd St., At Least,” and “Hey Ma… Kaye Ballard,” which she also brought to the McCallum. She did her last touring production in 2012 at age 86, “Doin’ It For Love,” a tribute to Broadway standards and performers, and the stories behind them with Montevecchi and Lee Roy Reams.

She said she was proud of having always been a working entertainer, without ever having to take a job outside of show biz.

“I’m very happy because I’m doing the things I’ve done for 60 years,” she said in 2012. “I’m just doing the best of the things, like Sofie Tucker and Jimmy Durante (material), and telling things that were in my book. It’s really wonderful.”

Ballard made her first television splash in the 1957 made-for-TV Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, “Cinderella,” starring Julie Andrews. She became part of the Kraft Music Hall Players on NBC’s “The Perry Como Show” with Don Adams and Sandy Stewart in 1961-62.

But it was the 1967-69 sitcom “The Mothers-In-Law” that made Ballard a household name. She starred with Eve Arden as two very different neighbors who were forced to become in-laws when their kids surprised them by marrying one another.

Desi Arnaz directed the shows and the writers of “I Love Lucy,” Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis, wrote the scripts.

Ballard moved on to a recurring part “The Doris Day Show” in 1970, with Rose Marie again in a higher-profile featured role, and she made an appearance on “Here’s Lucy,” starring Lucille Ball and her two kids, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr.

Lucie remembers Ballard coming to the desert to visit her family, with her father and his second wife, Edie, during “The Mothers-In-Laws.”

“I have known her for over 50 years,” Arnaz said. “My father produced her series and she bought his house here in Rancho Mirage. She has always been very supportive of the direction I wanted to take in this business, even mentioning me in her autobiography, saying I would make a great director one day — years before I actually started directing. I always appreciated that. Kaye was a force to be reckoned with and I will miss her.”

Actresses Nanette Fabray and Kaye Ballard arrive at the sneak preview for the documentary film “Broadway: The Golden Age” on June 24, 2003 in Hollywood, California. | Dan Steinberg/Getty Images

Actresses Nanette Fabray and Kaye Ballard arrive at the sneak preview for the documentary film “Broadway: The Golden Age” on June 24, 2003 in Hollywood, California. | Dan Steinberg/Getty Images

Ballard never married or had children. She wrote in her memoir, “I found an emotional connection with women like Liz (Smith, the admittedly bisexual syndicated columnist who was Ballard’s road manager in the 1950s) that I could never find with a man. I don’t know why or how it happened, but I do know it has kept me single my entire life.”

Ballard received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Palm Springs Women In Film & Television in November for helping to break the glass ceiling marginalizing women in show business.

She was in awe of people with great talent. She originally planned to call her autobiography, “I Just Happened To Be There” because she was so impressed by all the people she met from the pantheon of show business.

“I met Elvis Presley in Palm Springs,” she said. “I was driving along Palm Canyon and I pulled right upside his black (Stutz Blackhawk), and I said, ‘I love you!’ He said, ‘I love you, too, Miss Ballard.’ I said, ‘Ah!’ I almost drove off the road. I thought, ‘Elvis Presley said my name! He knows who I am! That was the thrill of a lifetime.”

But she was just as proud of recognizing up-and-coming talent and helping them with their careers. She boasted of introducing comic actor Paul Lynde to producer Leonard Sillman, who launched his career by putting him in “New Faces Of 1952.” She suggested Jerry Stiller and his wife, Anne Meara, do a comedy act together. They became famous as Stiller & Meara before they became famous as Ben Stiller’s parents.

Satirist Paul Krassner, who edited the pioneering comic Lenny Bruce’s autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,” credited Ballard with getting Bruce one of his first big New York gigs at the Blue Angel.

“I think every person who understood Kaye at all would agree that the most salient fact about her was that, in a profession where the ego is most often supreme, she thrived on finding genuine happiness in the success of others, whether they happened to be huge stars or simply people she took pleasure in knowing,” said her friend, Hal Wingo, one of the founding editors of People magazine.

“As much as she sought out and enjoyed the limelight of show business in a very long and diversified career, she equally enjoyed the company of other talented performers she respected and admired, even to the point of refusing top billing every time she thought another person was more deserving, though very few were.”

She did a “Going Out Of Business” show at the Camelot Theatre in 2014 with friends such as the late Carol Channing, Shecky Greene and Peter Marshall, and it sold out in two weeks. It was filmed for the documentary that was made about her and it provided a warm ending to a film that was primarily intended to inform people about the vastness of Ballard’s career.

Channing says in the film Ballard was the only friend she could talk to about her own personal let-downs.

“She and Channing,” lamented Childers. “What a loss. What an empty hole we have in this desert now without them.”

“There is no dynamite talent like that,” added McLeod. “In the movie, you can see what a multi-talented person she was, and she was that way as a friend, too.”

Wingo, who was an executive producer of “Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On,” said he’ll remember Ballard for her work and the depth of her friendship.

“When self-interest and ego satisfaction were being dished out to humans,” Wingo said, “Kaye was still in the line waiting for a second helping of awe and wonder. Those traits were her constant companions throughout a career of comedic brilliance and stunning vocal competence in every arena of show business, from vaudeville to Broadway, television and films.

“But, what must be remembered now is that none of those achievements were any match for the grandeur and strength of her own generous heart. That’s the great loss we all experience in losing her.”

Wingo, serving as a family spokesman, said Ballard did not want any form of funeral service and her body will be cremated. Her nearest relatives, he said, are nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, Ballard asked that donations in her name be made to the Palm Springs Animal Shelter, the Coachella Homeless Shelter or any Coachella Valley veterans groups.

Bruce Fessier, USA Today Network

Read more at usatoday.com

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