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Carol Arthur, the actor who appeared in Blazing Saddles and three other Mel Brooks films and on Broadway opposite Dick Van Dyke and Lauren Bacall and widow of comedian Dom DeLuise, has died. She was 85.
Arthur died Sunday at the Mary Pickford House at the Motion Picture & Television Fund home in Woodland Hills after an 11-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, her family announced. She had lived there since 2015.
Arthur is probably best remembered for her turn as Rock Ridge schoolmarm Harriett Van Johnson in Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974). In one scene at a town council meeting, she takes the stage to read a letter she has written to the governor expressing displeasure with his choice of sheriff (Cleavon Little).
“The fact that you have sent him here just goes to prove that you are the leading asshole in the state!” she says to much applause.
Arthur also appeared for Brooks in Silent Movie (1976), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) — her husband was in those two movies as well — and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995).
“She was my lifelong friend, and she will be missed,” Brooks said in a statement.
Perhaps Arthur’s most enduring TV role was as “Safety Sadie,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. She played the character in public service spots in the 1970s and ’80s.
While performing in Summer and Smirk in 1963 at the Provincetown (Mass.) Playhouse, Arthur met DeLuise for the first time. “This is who I want to spend my life with!” she said. “He was funny. Bigger than life. He was so honest and so real. So passionate … and intense.”
They were married from 1965 until DeLuise’s death from kidney failure in May 2009 at age 75.
Carol Jane Arata was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, on Aug. 4, 1935, Her father, Peter, was a police lieutenant and her mother, Mildred, a piano teacher; her grandfather worked in vaudeville.
In New York City, she attended the Feagin School of Dramatic Radio and Arts and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then understudied for Dody Goodman and Imogene Coca in national tours of Once Upon a Mattress.
In 1963 during the first London production of the famed Comden-Green musical On the Town, Arthur brought down the house with her bravura rendition of “I Can Cook Too.”
She made her Broadway debut a year later in the musical comedy High Spirits, directed by Noël Coward, then played Mrs. Paroo opposite Van Dyke in 1980 in The Music Man, directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd. In 1981, she joined the cast of Woman of the Year, starring Bacall.
Arthur also appeared with DeLuise in films including The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), Hot Stuff (1979), The Princess and the Dwarf (1989), Driving Me Crazy (1991), The Good Bad Guy (1997), The Godson (1998) and Between the Sheets (2003), directed their son Michael. They worked together on 1968’s The Dom DeLuise Show for CBS as well.
Her résumé also included The Sunshine Boys (1975) and episodes of Emergency!, Sanford and Son, Rhoda, Alice, Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, St. Elsewhere and 7th Heaven.
Survivors include her sons Peter (and his wife, Anne Marie), David (and his wife, Julia) and Michael, all actors; grandchildren Jake, Destefano and Dylan; and brother George.
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