Kathleen Freeman, a Tony-nommed star of the current Broadway musical “The Full Monty,” died Thursday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City of lung cancer. She was 78.
Longtime character actress gave her final performance in the show just days earlier, having done two shows at the Eugene O’Neill Theater on Saturday.
Her comic turn as a rehearsal pianist in “The Full Monty” not only nabbed the actress her first Tony Award nomination, it epitomized the wisecracking, no-nonsense, eternally perturbed persona she polished over a 50-year career in film, TV and on the stage. As piano-player Jeanette Burmeister, she never failed to bring down the house with her line, “If you want to be in show business, you should be spayed first.”
Born in Chicago, Freeman made her stage debut at age 2 when she appeared with her parents in vaudeville. The family later moved to Los Angeles, and she graduated from UCLA.
A founding member of the Circle Players, and later a director, producer and actor in the Players Ring and Gallery Theaters, Freeman also found time to appear in at least 70 feature films. A partial list includes “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Fly,” “The Rounders,” “Far Country” and “North to Alaska.”
For her film work, she may best be remembered as a stone-face foil to Jerry Lewis, her playing a blue-collar Margaret Dumont to his juvenile Groucho Marx in 10 of the comic’s movies.
More recently, the actress performed in “Shrek,” “Innerspace,” “Dragnet,” “Chances Are,” “Hocus Pocus,” “Naked Gun 331/3,” “Nutty Professor II” and both Blues Brothers comedies.
On television, Freeman appeared in hundreds of TV episodes, including work that nearly spanned the history of the medium, from “Topper” and “The Donna Reed Show” to “Murphy Brown” and “Becker.”
Prior to Broadway, the actress costarred in the national companies of “Deathtrap,” “Annie” and “Woman of the Year.”
She is survived by her best friend, Helen Ramsey.
Memorial services are being planned in Los Angeles and New York.