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Thea White, who supplied the Scottish voice for the sweet farmer’s wife Muriel on the Cartoon Network scary comedy Courage the Cowardly Dog, has died. She was 81.
White died Friday at the Cleveland Clinic after complications from surgery in her battle with liver cancer, her brother John Zitzner told The Hollywood Reporter.
The New Jersey native was Marlene Dietrich’s personal assistant in the waning days of the legendary German-born actress’ career and was married to Andy White, who played on some early Beatles songs, from 1983 until his 2015 death.
White worked on all 52 episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog, which ran for four seasons, from 1999-2002. The cartoon was a product of The Chicken From Outer Space (1996), an Oscar-nominated short film written, directed and produced by John R. Dilworth.
Muriel’s grumpy husband, Eustace, was played by Lionel Wilson and Arthur Anderson, and the nervous pink dog Courage, who was always rescuing the elderly couple from otherworldly creatures, was voiced by Mart Grabstein in the series set in Nowhere, Kansas.
“I was surprised by how many young kids loved being scared,” she said in February. “I got a fan letter once from a little boy who was 7 years old and he wrote me, ‘Could you please tell them to make more Courage the Cowardly Dog, and please tell them to make it scarier and scarier?'”
Thea Ruth Zitzner was born on June 16, 1940, in Newark, New Jersey. She graduated from Grover Cleveland High School in Caldwell, New Jersey, then studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and at the American Theatre Wing in New York.
She was in Dallas doing Goodbye Charlie at a dinner theater when she met White, who was working as a drummer for Dietrich in her concert act. Her future husband, a session player from Scotland, had played on recordings of “Please Please Me,” “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You” with Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison in the early 1960s.
The connection got her a gig as Dietrich’s assistant. “This was toward the end of her career, but she was wonderful, so nice to everyone,” White said in 2002. “She would walk around all day kind of slumped over and sagging and then, at night, she would tape her face back, put on a wig, pull herself up and perform, and she was really something.”
She became a librarian after marrying White but returned to acting after taking a phone call at home from a producer seeking someone with a Scottish accent for a cartoon.”I used to be an actress and my husband is a Scot, and I can do the accent, so why don’t I audition?” she told the caller. That got her hired on Courage the Cowardly Dog.
White returned as Muriel in the 2014 short The Fog of Courage and last year in the video Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Survivors include her brothers, Stewart and John, and John’s wife, Peg.
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