Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sheree North

Blonde bombshell and character actress Sheree North has passed on. She died Friday, November 11 of complicatoins from surgery. She was 72.

Sheree North was born Dawn Bethel to to Edward and Ethel Bethel in Los Angeles, California. North began her career in entertainment early, dancing for the USO at age 10 and later dancing in Carroll’s variety shows. Her big break came with with the Broadway musical Hazel Flagg in 1953. Having appeared as an extra in the 1951 movie Excuse My Dust, her big break on the big screen came as a dancer in the film version of Hazel Flagg, Living It Up, the following year.

North was signed by 20th Century Fox as a possible replacement for the unreliable Marilyn Monroe that same year. She tested for two of Marilyn's more famous roles, those in Girl in Pink Tights and There's No Business Like Show Business. When Monroe turned down the lead in How to Be Very, Very Popular, it was North who got the part. Despite this, North was not destined for big screen greatness. She would appear in many films throughout her career, among them The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, Madigan, The Trouble of Girls, The Organization and The Shootist. Her bigget impact, however, would be on the small screen.

Throughout the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, North guest starred on such series as Playhouse 90, Bonanza, The Loner, Kung Fu, and Matlock. She is probably best known for playing Lou Grant's girlfriend on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Kramer's mother, Babs, on Seinfeld.

North continued to appear on stage for much of her career. She appeared in the 1962 Broadway production I Can Get It for You Wholesale. She also toured with productions of Bye, Bye, Birdie, Irma La Douce, and Can-Can.

That Sheree North was beautiful there can be no doubt. She was also a talented dancer, and I rather suspect that if she had been born earlier she could have had a successful career in Hollywood musicals. One thing I have to admire about North is that she insisted on aging naturally, refusing to remain pegged as a blonde bombshell. This allowed North to make the move from mere window dressing in films to character roles. Indeed, if she is remembered best as Lou Grant's saloon singer girlfriend and as Kramer's mother, it may be because those roles were much more interesting than her earlier roles in Hollywood pictures. Very few actresses have ever made this transition successfully (the only other actress I can think of who did it was Shelley Winters). Groomed to be a glamour girl, North will forever be remembered as a character actress.

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