Hazel Shermet, Comedienne, Actress and Singer, Dies at 96

Courtesy of Robert Rhine
Hazel Shermet

She worked on the radio with Milton Berle and Henny Youngman, appeared in the 1954 version of 'A Star Is Born' and voiced Henrietta Hippo on TV.

Hazel Shermet, a comedienne, actress and singer whose long show-business career encompassed radio and television shows, commercials, Broadway and the movies, has died. She was 96.

Shermet died Thursday of natural causes at her home in Los Angeles, her son, actor and producer Robert Rhine, announced.

Her husband was the late Larry Rhine, a two-time Emmy nominee who wrote for such shows as Mr. Ed, The Red Skelton Hour, The Brady Bunch and All in the Family. The couple were married for 50 years before his death in 2000.

Shermet was a prolific voiceover actress who spoke for the tutu-wearing Henrietta Hippo on all 196 episodes of the syndicated New Zoo Review, a musical comedy kids show that aired from 1972-77. 

She played Cousin Melancholia on a 1964 episode of The Addams Family and appeared on dozens of shows including The Beverly Hillbillies, My Favorite Martian, The Patty Duke Show, That Girl, I Dream of Jeannie, The Facts of Life, Gimme a Break and Punky Brewster.

Shermet also was seen in more than 100 TV commercials, for products from Borox and Head & Shoulders to Hunt’s Tomato Paste and Charmin. At one point, she had seven national spots running simultaneously, and that landed her on the cover of The Commercial Actor Magazine as actress of the month.

On the big screen, Shermet showed up in A Star Is Born (1954), Rockabilly Baby (1957), Auntie Mame (1958), The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond (1960), Gypsy (1962), Bye Bye Birdie (1963), Love at First Bite (1979) and Body Slam (1986).

In 1947, she performed on Broadway alongside Jack Albertson in The Cradle Will Rock.

"I'm proud of the fact that I was able to work in all the mediums and raise two kids and be married to somebody that was working all the time," she said in a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television. "I hope people remember me as professional, as versatile and as somebody who loved every minute of it. I hope I gave a lot of joy.

"Acting for me is like eating for most people. When I’m 90 and the phone rings, I’ll put my teeth in, hobble to the phone and see if it’s my agent.”

Shermet was born on Aug. 1, 1920, in Philadelphia. She moved to New York and at age 19 began work as an advertising copywriter with the Al Paul Lefton Co. agency. She credited that experience, along with studying acting at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, for her long career.

Shermet's first big break came when she was cast as Miss Duffy on the Duffy’s Tavern radio show and relocated to Puerto Rico, where the comedy show was recorded. There, she met her future husband, the head writer on the program.

She later sang and did comedy on the radio alongside the likes of Henny Youngman, Fred Allen, Henry Morgan, Milton Berle, Kate Smith and Morey Amsterdam.

On the fledgling New York TV station WOR, Shermet had her own show called Songs You’ve Never Heard Before and Won’t Want to Ever Hear Again, in which she performed tunes that viewers had mailed in.

Shermet continued her radio career after she and her husband moved to California, with work on My Friend Irma, December Bride and Meet Millie. In 1954, she appeared on TV in Dragnet and played Jack Carson's secretary in A Star Is Born.

Survivors also include her daughter Vicki, daughter-in-law Julie (an Emmy-nominated costume designer) and half-sister Shirley. The family requests that donations in her name be made to the ASPCA.

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