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Georgia Engel, the actress with the baby-like voice who played the girlfriend and eventual wife of the blustery TV anchorman Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has died. She was 70.
Engel died Friday in Princeton, New Jersey, according to John Quilty, her friend and executor. He told The New York Times that the cause was undetermined because, as a Christian Scientist, the actress did not consult doctors.
Engel was Emmy-nominated for her work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1976 and 1977, then received other noms in 2003, ’04 and ’05 for playing Pat MacDougall, the mother-in-law of Brad Garrett’s character, on another fabled CBS sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond.
She joined The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1972 for its third season as Georgette Franklin. She came aboard Everybody Loves Raymond in 2003, that show’s seventh season.
The angelic Engel also portrayed Shirley Burleigh, the wife of Minnesota State athletic director Howard Burleigh (Kenneth Kimmins), on ABC’s Coach and was a regular or recurring player on other series including The Betty White Show, Jennifer Slept Here, The Office and Hot in Cleveland.
She also was in the original Broadway cast of The Drowsy Chaperone in 2006, and more recently appeared off-Broadway in Will Eno’s Middletown and Annie Baker’s John.
Born in Washington on July 28, 1948, Engel graduated from ballet school, earned a theater degree at the University of Hawaii and appeared as a replacement actor near the end of the 1964-70 original Broadway run of Hello, Dolly!
She made her movie debut in Taking Off (1971), directed by Milos Forman. One of its screenwriters, John Guare, put her in his play, The House of Blue Leaves, in Los Angeles, where she was spotted by Mary Tyler Moore and her husband and producing partner, Grant Tinker. That led to her getting the part of Georgette.
“It was only going to be one episode,” she told The Toronto Star in 2007, “and I was just supposed to have a few lines in a party scene, but they kept giving me more and more to do.”
Georgette and Baxter (Ted Knight) get married in November 1975 during the sixth season in an impromptu ceremony that takes place in Mary’s apartment. In the Star interview, she was asked what she thought of Knight, who died in 1986.
“I liked him very much,” she said, “but, to tell the honest truth, the writers took a kernel of truth from all of us and then magnified it in our characters. Ted never recovered from [series co-creator] Allan Burns asking him, ‘How does it feel to be the country’s biggest schmuck?’
“I remember the first year of the Emmys when I was on the show. Ted and Ed [Asner] were both nominated, and when Ed won, the camera went to Ted for a reaction, and it wasn’t a face of graciousness, it was a face of terrible jealousy. I wanted to say, ‘Oh, Ted, could you have just pretended you were happy for him?'”
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