Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Elisabeth Fraser R.I.P.

I am sure it has happened to most of us. We are watching a television show and we recognise an actor from yet other guest appearances on other TV shows. These actors were the unsung heroes of series television's Golden Age (which I could as the Fifties and Sixties), the chracters actors. Yet another of their number has died. Character actress Elisabeth Fraser passed on Thursday at the age of 85 from congstive heart failure.

In case you don't recognise the name (which I am sure most of you don't), Elisabeth Fraser was probably best known for playing Sgt. Bilko's girlfriend, Sgt. Joan Hogan, on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko). Fraser had a long career on stage, in film, and on television. She started at the tender age of 18 on the Broadway stage, playing the ignenue in the play There Shall Be No
. Her role in the play attracted the attention of Warner Brothers who signed her to a contract. She made her film debut in One Foot in Heaven in 1941. Perhaps her best known early role was that of June Stanley (daughter of the unfortunate Stanleys who must host Sheridan Whiteside as his leg mends) in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Later in her career Fraser played a succession of brassy blondes on both film and television. She played Miss Forsythe in the 1951 version of Death of a Salesman, Alice Pepper in The Tunnel of Love, Nina Bailey in The Glass Bottom Boat, and Shelley Winter's friend Sadie in A Patch of Blue.

Of course, Fraser was probably best known for her many television roles. Besides playing Joan on The Phil Silvers Show, she also played Hazel Norris on the television version of Fibber McGee and Molly. She made a large number of guest appearances, in a wide number of genres shows. She appeared in anthology series, such as Four Star Theatre and Kraft Television Theatre. She appeared in dramas, such The Defenders and Wagon Train. She appeared in action series, such as 77 Sunset Strip and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. But the largest number of guest appearances she made were in sitcoms, taking memorable turns in The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Jack Benny Programme, Maude, and The Monkees.

She appeared a few more times on Broadway throughout the Forties and Fifties, including the original stage version of Tunnel of Love, The People, and The Best Man.

Elisabeth Fraser was among my favourite character actors. She was perfect for roles of brassy broads, and had a natural gift for comedy. Her timing was impeccable. Indeed, as Joan Hogan she was a perfect match for comic genius Phil Silvers as Ernie Bilko. While I suspect most TV viewers won't remember her name (such is the curse of character actors), they will remember her.

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