Jayne Meadows, Actress and Panelist on Game Shows, Dies at 95
The Emmy-nominated star was married to comedian Steve Allen, the first 'Tonight Show' host, for more than 40 years.
Actress Jayne Meadows, the widow of comedian Steve Allen who is perhaps best known for her work as a celebrity panelist on such TV game shows as I’ve Got a Secret, has died. She was 95.
Meadows died of natural causes in her longtime Encino home on Sunday night, her son, Bill Allen, told Entertainment Tonight.
Allen, the first host of NBC’s Tonight Show (from 1954-57), died in 2000 of a heart attack at age 78. Her late sister was Audrey Meadows, who played Alice, the wisecracking wife of Jackie Gleason's character, on The Honeymooners. She died in 1996.
Meadows was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for her work on the series Meeting of Minds, St. Elsewhere and High Society.
Meadows also appeared on the games shows To Tell the Truth, The Match Game, What’s My Line? and The Hollywood Squares.
“I’ve Got a Secret was my favorite,” she said in a 2005 interview with the Archive of American Television. “The next day after the show I would go to the grocery store and the cab drivers would say: ‘Jaynie, great show last night! How’s Steve O?’ It was the medium that came to every living room. Didn’t matter if it was the Rockefellers or the guy who was struggling to pay the bills in The Bronx, I wasn’t Miss Meadows from the movies, I was Jaynie.”
I’ve Got a Secret was a huge primetime hit for CBS in the 1950s, and Meadows at the time was about as popular as another network star, Lucille Ball.
Meadows, the daughter of missionary parents, was born in Wuchang, China. A bombing of their village by the Nationalist Army forced her family to return to America in 1927, and she was schooled in Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Meadows made her Broadway debut in 1941 in the comedy Spring Again and appeared on the Great White Way in The Gazebo opposite Walter Slezak in 1958 and in a 1980 revival of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s Once in a Lifetime with John Lithgow and Treat Williams.
She toured the town hall circuit for many years in the one-woman show Powerful Women in History, in which she performed as Cleopatra, Florence Nightingale, Catherine the Great and others.
The show, which she wrote, was culled from the Emmy-winning PBS series Meeting of Minds, on which she collaborated with Allen.
She received the Susan B. Anthony Award in the early 1980s for her contribution to portraying women in positive roles.
Meadows wrote an original story for a 1983 segment of ABC's Fantasy Island, which starred her and her husband. They also played themselves in Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) and in Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995).
Years earlier, the couple created a daily, early morning radio program that was broadcast from their home in the San Fernando Valley.
“She was not only an extraordinarily gifted actress who could move audiences from laughter to tears and back again all in one scene, but she was the greatest story teller I have ever known,” her son told ET. “I will miss her endlessly fascinating and frequently hilarious anecdotes about her life and the many brilliantly talented people she worked with and befriended along the way. She will be sorely missed and never forgotten."