[about how she got started in comedy while a music student playing a bit part in a play at UCLA] A terrible thing happened; I got a laugh. I think comedy is more powerful than drama in the long run. Comedy is more difficult. It's very easy to make people cry.
- Kathleen Freeman
Kathleen Freeman was nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actress (Featured Role - Musical) for "The Full Monty."
17 February 1919, Chicago, Illinois
23 August 2001, New York City, New York
Kathleen Freeman (February 17, 1919 - August 23, 2001) was an American film, television, and stage actress. In a career that spanned more than fifty years, she portrayed tart maids, secretaries, teachers, busybodies, nurses, and battle-axe neighbors, almost invariably to comic effect.
Freeman was born in Chicago, Illinois. She began her career as a child, dancing in her parents' vaudeville act. After a stint studying music at UCLA, she went into acting full time, working on the stage, and finally entering films in 1948. She was a founding member of the Circle Players at The Circle Theatre, started in 1946, now know as El Centro Theatre .
Freeman's most notable early role was an uncredited part in the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, as Jean Hagen's articulate diction coach Phoebe Dinsmore. In 1954, Freeman played receptionist Miss Seely for lawyer Adam Calhorn Shaw (Edmund Purdom) in Athena. Beginning with the 1955 film Artists and Models, Freeman became a favorite foil of Jerry Lewis, playing opposite him in 11 movies. These included most of Lewis's better known comedies, including The Disorderly Orderly as Nurse Higgins, The Errand Boy as the studio boss's wife, and especially The Nutty Professor as Millie Lemon. Over thirty years later, she had a small cameo in The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, a sequel to the remake of the Lewis film. It is also known that she taught acting classes in Los Angeles.
Still other film roles included appearances in The Missouri Traveler (1958), the horror film The Fly (1958), the Western spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and appearances in a spate of comedies in the 1980s and 1990s. Freeman played Sister Mary Stigmata (referred to as The Penguin) in John Landis' The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, had cameos in Joe Dante's Innerspace and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (as tipsy cooking host Microwave Marge in 2), and a Ma Barker type gangster mother in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.
Freeman was also a familiar presence on television, from the 1950s until her death, with regular or recurring roles on many sitcoms, including Topper (as Katie the maid), The Donna Reed Show (as Mrs. Wilgus, the Stone's busybody next door neighbor), Hogan's Heroes (as Frau Gertrude Linkmeyer, General Burkhalter's sister, who longed to wed Colonel Klink), Mrs. Kate Harwell, Sandy Duncan's landlady and friend in Funny Face; I Dream of Jeannie (as a grouchy supervisor in a false preview of Maj. Nelson's future), the short-lived prehistoric sitcom It's About Time (as Mrs. Boss), and as the voice of Peg Bundy's mom, an unseen character on Married... with Children. She played guest roles on countless other shows, from The Lucy Show and The Beverly Hillbillies to Home Improvement. She also played Sister Agnes in an episode of The Golden Girls. Freeman was considered for the part of Alice the housekeeper on The Brady Bunch, the role that ultimately went to Ann B. Davis.
In 1969, Freeman made a guest appearance on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., playing Sergeant Carter's mother in the episode "I'm Always Chasing Gomers." She costarred in the 1973-74 sitcom Lotsa Luck, playing Dom DeLuise's mother.
In later years, Freeman also worked extensively as a voice actress, playing Ma Crackshell on DuckTales, a Theban woman in Disney's Hercules, and fortune teller Madame Xima in the video game Curse of Monkey Island.
Freeman remained active in her last two years, with a regular voice role on As Told By Ginger, a voice bit in Shrek, a guest appearance on Becker and, most notably, scoring a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for her role of accompanist Jeannette Burmeister in the Broadway musical version of The Full Monty.
In her final episode of As Told By Ginger, Season 2's "No Hope For Courtney", her character, Mrs. Gordon, retires from her teaching job and two of her students try to get her back. The script was originally written to have Mrs. Gordon come back to work, but Freeman died before the episode was finished. The script was then re-written to make her character die as well. The episode was dedicated in her memory.
Weakened by illness, Freeman was forced to leave the Full Monty cast. Five days later, she died of lung cancer at age 82. Her ashes are inurned in a niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
Freeman was reported by some to be a lesbian; the British reports of her death included her surviving long-time companion, Helen Ramsey, but the U.S. obituaries did not. Close friends, however, say that she was not. In a 2001 on-line rebuttal to a Freeman mention, the executor of her estate, Jane A. Wallace, told a blogger that though Kathleen did indeed have a devoted female friend/assistant who was named a survivor, she was not a lesbian. Wallace wrote, "As one of many unmarried women who had no mate, she would be the first to acknowledge that she loved men but could not hold one."
In the 1950s, at The Music Circus (a theater-in-the-round in Sacramento, Calif.) a prop chair collapsed under her weight while she was singing, the musicians stopped playing, and in a dead silence she got up to her knees, spread her arms and sang, "That's why I love the theater".
Graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Was considered for the role of Alice Nelson in "The Brady Bunch" (1969).
John Garcia, Executive Director/Producer of "The Column" Awards, created an award in her honor. This is given to individuals who overcome personal, physical, or other major problems in their lives and continue to work in theater, whether behind or in front of the curtain. Whatever obstacles--personal problems, health issues, etc.--were affecting their lives offstage, on stage they give it their all. They are living the theme of what Ms. Freeman always said: "The show must go on".