With a career spanning six decades, the Iowa native first appeared on television in 1950s commercials, later appearing opposite James Dean in TV drama “Life Sentence” (1953).
Johnson’s live TV performances include the original production of “Bang the Drum Slowly” (1956) with Paul Newman as well as playing Tony Randall’s wife in “Mr. Peepers” from 1952 to 1955.
The actress recalled: “It was a terribly good and terribly funny show and yet very gentle. I realized how much a special thing it was at the time.”
Her dream of singing in a Big Band came to fruition in Steve Allen’s “Songs for Sale” (1950-1952), a talent show for aspiring songwriters. Peggy Lee performed Johnson’s song, which won the prize and made an impression on Allen. He later cast her in the live television musical “The Bachelor.” In 1954, Johnson headed to Broadway to appear in “Reclining Figure” as well as the “Room Service” revival starring Jack Lemmon in 1953.
In the 1960’s, Johnson performed in “Critic’s Choice” on Broadway opposite Henry Fonda as well as episodes of “Dr. Kildare,” “The Doctors,” and “The Fugitive.” She later encountered Jon Voight as the “Rich Lady” in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy.”
The 70s featured soap operas for Johnson, as she appeared in long-running roles on both “Another World/Somerset” as Ellen Grant and in “As the World Turns” as Jane Spencer.
Throughout the next 35 years, Johnson recurred on “All My Children” and “Wiseguy.” She appeared as Sharon Gless’ mother in “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill” and as Jane Seymour in “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Johnson also featured in guest spots on “Seinfeld,” “Thirtysomething,” and “Elsewhere.”
Johnson is survived by her four daughters: Carol Prager, Annie Prager, Sally Seymour, and Molly Boyll, as well as three grandchildren.