Kaye Ballard, One of the Mothers-in-Law on the 1960s NBC Sitcom, Dies at 93

Kaye Ballard - Photofest - H 2016
Courtesy of Photofest

Kaye Ballard - Photofest - H 2016

A whiskey-voiced singer who was the first to record 'Fly Me to the Moon,' the Cleveland native also starred in the movies, on Broadway and in nightclubs.

Kaye Ballard, the singer, actress and comedienne best known for starring as one of the meddling title characters on the 1960s NBC sitcom The Mothers-in-Law, has died. She was 93. 

Ballard, a popular nightclub entertainer and star on Broadway who was the first to record the popular tune "Fly Me to the Moon," died Monday at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, The Desert Sun reported.

Just this month, she appeared at a Palm Springs International Film Festival screening of the documentary Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On.

On The Mothers-in-Law, created by famed I Love Lucy writers Bob Carroll and Madelyn Pugh Davis and produced by Desi Arnaz, Ballard starred as Kaye Buell, the big-mouth wife of a TV writer (played by Roger C. Carmel in the first season and Richard Deacon in the second).

Eve Arden and Herbert Rudley played their married neighbors, and when the couples' kids (Jerry Fogel, Deborah Walley) elope, the mothers-in-law can't help but get in the way. The show ran from 1967 to 1969.

Ballard's turn as the bored housewife Helen in the 1954 Broadway mock-musical comedy The Golden Apple, directed by Norman Lloyd, was a career highlight, as was her performance of the song “Lazy Afternoon” in the production.

The whiskey-voiced singer also stirred audiences on the Great White Way with her rendition of “Always, Always You” as the Incomparable Rosalie in Carnival!, which won the 1961 Dramatic Critics Circle Award as best musical.

Ballard made her movie debut in the musical The Girl Most Likely (1958), starring Jane Powell (that was the last film produced by RKO Radio Pictures). She also appeared opposite Shelley Winters in the drama A House Is Not a Home (1964); with Jerry Lewis in the comedy Which Way to the Front? (1970); as Coach Betsy in Jodie Foster's Freaky Friday (1976); and as Jack Weston's wife in The Ritz (1976), directed by Richard Lester.

She was born Catherine Gloria Balotta in Cleveland on Nov. 20, 1925, to first-generation Italian-American parents. She was the second of four children, and her father was a cement finisher who put down sidewalks. As a teen, she worked as an usherette at the RKO Palace Theatre and perfected imitations of Bette Davis, Judy Garland and Martha Raye. She took her skills of mimicry into burlesque and vaudeville.

Ballard landed her first part in a revue, Three to Make Ready, and then toured with the national company of Touch and Go and Top Banana. In 1946, bandleader Spike Jones caught her in a show in Detroit, and a month later she joined his orchestra as a singer and comic tuba player.

Ballard made her TV debut in 1951, appearing on The Mel Torme Show, and appeared at hotspots like The Blue Angel, Mr. Kelly's and The Hungry I. In 1954, she mounted a nightclub act titled “A Tribute to Fanny Brice,” based on her idea that a musical should be made about the singer. (Barbra Streisand, of course, played Brice in 1968's Funny Girl.)

Also in 1954, Ballard became the first person to record "Fly Me to the Moon" (original title: "In Other Words"), which was the B-side of Lazy Afternoon and would become a big hit for Frank Sinatra. And in 1962, she voiced the Lucy character for the first Peanuts album to music composed by Fred Karlin.

For United Artists in 1960, Ballard recorded “Kaye Ballard Swings,” an album of her nightclub performances at the Bon Soir.

Ballard was a member of the Kraft Music Hall Players for a year and a half on NBC's The Perry Como Show. She also appeared on talk/variety programs hosted by Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Mike Douglas and Garry Moore and showed up on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson more than 50 times.

On The Doris Day Show in the 1970s, Ballard played Angie Pallucci, the wife of Bernie Kopell's character (the couple owned an Italian restaurant in Day's apartment building). Ballard later made guest-star appearances on Police Story, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Trapper John, M.D.

Her most recent movie appearances include The Modern Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1998), Baby Geniuses (1999) and The Million Dollar Kid (2000).

Ballard, who once shared a Sanka with Mother Theresa and wrote a 2006 memoir, How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years, never married. After buying a home in Rancho Mirage from Arnaz in 1970, she had her street (now known as Kaye Ballard Lane) named for her in 2003.