Virginia “Patsy” Garrett, a well-known character actress best known as the “chow-chow-chow” lady on the Purina Cat Chow commercials, her recurring roles on TV’s “Nanny and the Professor” and “Room 222” and in the “Benji” movie series, died Jan. 8 after a brief illness in Indio, Calif. She was 93.
Garrett played nosy neighbor Florence Fowler on “Nanny and the Professor” (1970-71), school secretary Miss Hogarth on “Room 222” (1972-73) and Mary Gruber in the “Benji” series of family films beginning in 1974. Her numerous TV appearances from the 1960s through the ’80s included “Family,” “Kojak,” “Medical Center,” “The Waltons,” “Medical Center” and her final TV role as a bigoted mother on Redd Foxx’s “Sanford” in 1981.
U.S. TV audiences of the 1960s and 1970s will remember Garrett for her role in a series of commercial messages as the Purina Cat Chow Lady. A post-production trick involving the controlled forward motion and reversal of the film had Garrett dancing the “chow-chow-chow” with a cat in a good-humored parody of the cha-cha-cha. Garrett also appeared as the mayor’s wife in the 1969 Elvis Presley film “The Trouble With Girls,” which led to a lifelong friendship with the singer.
In the late 1960s, Garrett provided cartoon voiceovers for a number of Hanna-Barbera projects, including “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.”
She most recently appeared onscreen in a small role in the 1991 film “Mississippi Masala.”
Born in Atlantic City, N.J., to parents who were vaudevillians (“Mason & Gwynne”), the actress and singer had her own children’s radio show on a Richmond, Va., station at the age of 7. At age 17, she became a regular on Fred Waring’s national radio show “Pleasure Time” as a comic singer from 1938 to 1945. During this time, she was approached by Cole Porter to promote the now-standard ballad “Begin the Beguine,” which he had written for a new musical.
Garrett was preceded in death by husband Alexander Kokinacis, a composer who wrote under the name Nick Alexander.
She is survived by a son and a daughter, a stepson, and and a number of grandchildren.
Services were held Jan. 13 at Forest Lawn in Cathedral City, Calif.
Donations may be sent to Children’s Playtime Productions at http://www.justgive.org/chowchowchow