Libi Staiger, Actress on Broadway and in Denny's Commercials, Dies at 91

Courtesy of Photofest
Libi Staiger as Sophie Tucker on Broadway in 1963

She starred as Sophie Tucker in a short-lived musical that featured music and lyrics by Steve Allen.

Libi Staiger, who starred as show business legend Sophie Tucker in a 1963 Broadway musical and as one of two bickering sisters in Denny's commercials, died Wednesday in Austin, her daughter announced. She was 91.

Staiger made her Broadway debut in 1954 in the chorus of the original production of Wonderful Town, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, music by Leonard Bernstein and direction by George Abbott. (She also served as assistant stage manager to stage manager Hal Prince.)

She starred as Cleo in a revival of the Frank Loesser musical comedy The Most Happy Fella in 1959, then reprised the role in a 1960 London production that was directed by her husband, Jerome Eskow, an Obie Award winner and former chairman of the drama department at New York City's famed High School of the Performing Arts.

Staiger portrayed the risqué vaeudeville star Tucker — "The Last of the Red-Hot Mamas" — in Sophie. Featuring music and lyrics by Steve Allen, it opened at New York's Winter Garden Theatre on April 15, 1963, but lasted just eight performances.

Born Jan. 10, 1928, in Harrisburg, Ill., Staiger often said she ran away to New York City as soon as she could. She arrived in her early 20s and loved telling people that she "picked up" her husband in a bar on the Upper West Side.

She went on to also appear on Broadway in By the Beautiful Sea and in Michael Kidd's Destry Rides Again and worked primarily in commercials after the birth of her daughter, Lisa, in 1965.

Staiger and close friend Shannon Bolin Kaye played sisters Rose and Edith Corlick in a long-running series of commercials for Denny's in the 1980s and '90s. Many of the spots, created by the advertising firm DMB&B, were directed by Henry Winkler. Here's one of them.

In each commercial, Kaye's character would refer to the restaurant as "Lenny's," only to be corrected by Staiger. The campaign was a big hit, and the two embarked on nationwide media tours, giving interviews and staying in character as real-life sisters.

Her husband of 58 years died in 2009, and she moved to Austin, Texas, in 2014 to be closer to her immediate family.

In addition to her daughter, co-director of the Supreme Court Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, survivors include her grandson, Max.