Post by Deleted on Aug 29, 2013 14:51:05 GMT -5
Eccentric Miss Mamie in 'The Waltons'
12 January 2004
Helen Kleeb, actress: born South Bend, Washington 6
January 1907; married first 1937 John Prendergast (died
1950; one son), secondly Elmer Garrison (died 2004); died
Los Angeles 28 December 2003.
Gentility and grace from a bygone age were the abiding
qualities represented by the eccentric Baldwin sisters, Miss
Mamie and Miss Emily, in the wholesome, heartwarming family
television drama The Waltons, which has remained a
children's favourite on both sides of the Atlantic for more
than 30 years.
Helen Kleeb was 65 when she landed the role of the older
sister, Miss Mamie, and became used to younger cast members
being overprotective towards her. "I know I am fragile
because everyone is constantly telling me so," she said.
"They also frequently warn me not to fall down."
The American series, about a hillfolk family who operate a
sawmill in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the
Depression, was based on Earl Hamner Jnr's 1960 novel
Spencer's Mountain, a fictionalised account of his
childhood. Hamner, who narrated the screen adventures,
explained how he created the satellite characters of Miss
Mamie and Miss Emily:
Down on Route 6 between Esmont and Scottsville lived two
ladies who made an elixir they referred to as their Papa's
recipe. They were proud of their product and, whenever
anyone would sample it, they would lean over, watch them and
wait anxiously for a reaction. Was it smooth enough? Had it
been a good batch? And was the recipe machine working? I
wasn't old enough to sample the recipe, but my father and uncles stopped there quite often and they seemed to find the
recipe much to their satisfaction.
Born in South Bend, Washington, in 1907, Helen Kleeb began
her professional career on stage in Portland, Oregon, at the
age of 21, by acting with the Henry Duffy Players for five
years. In 1933, as theatre roles dried up during the
Depression, she found radio work in Portland and, after
marrying four years later, in San Francisco.
The death of her first husband in 1950 led Kleeb to Los
Angeles and a screen career. As well as taking bit-parts in
many films, she established herself as a character actress
in classic American television series such as Dragnet (1952,
1953, 1958), I Love Lucy (1955) and Gunsmoke (1956, 1958,
1964), before landing a regular, supporting role as Miss
Claridge in the law-firm sitcom Harrigan and Son (1960).
Guest-starring roles continued in what amounts to a
roll-call of Golden Age television, including The Andy
Griffith Show (1962), The Twilight Zone (1963), The Beverly Hillbillies (1964), The Munsters (1965, 1966), Perry Mason
(1966), Dr Kildare (1966) and Bewitched (1966), until she
was cast as Miss Mamie Baldwin in the Emmy-winning series
The Waltons (1972-81).
Kleeb and Mary Jackson took over the roles of Miss Mamie and
Miss Emily from Josephine Hutchinson and Dorothy Stickney,
who had played them in the pilot television film, The
Homecoming: a Christmas story (1971). They continued in the
one-off sequels A Wedding on Walton's Mountain (1982), A Day
for Thanks on Walton's Mountain (1982), A Walton
Thanksgiving Reunion (1993), A Walton Wedding (1995) and A
Walton Easter (1997).
Kleeb's many feature-film appearances included parts in The
Manchurian Candidate (alongside Frank Sinatra, 1962) and The
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (starring Burt Reynolds and
Dolly Parton, 1982).