Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Bye, Bob!"

I've fallen out of the habit of writing obits in these pages, but the loss of this funny lady has struck a chord with me.

Marcia Wallace
Marcia was born and raised in Iowa, and moved to New York as soon as she graduated college.  Her time in New York was spent primarily in the improv scene, though she supplemented her income with commercials:

During her time in Manhattan, she was one of the many semi-regulars appearing on Merv Griffin's talk show.  When Merv moved his show to Los Angeles, he asked her to move with it. (I wrote about watching Merv's show as a kid here, when Griffin died.) 
That circular reception desk in Bob's outer office
 was the scene of countless
hilarious moments.

It was a smart move for our heroine, as her continued appearances brought her to the attention of TV mogul Grant Tinker, who was hunting around for a companion sitcom to compliment his wife's new hit, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  He invited Wallace to become part of the ensemble of the show he was creating around standup comedian Bob Newhart. 
As part of the CBS Saturday lineup (which included All In The Family, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Burnett), it was the job of The Bob Newhart Show to hold onto Mary's audience and deliver them to Burnett.  As such, Newhart's show was the red-headed stepchild of the MTM family.  Extremely well-written and performed, it holds up today as a shining example of the ensemble sitcom.  And it gave birth to a college drinking game, though I did not know it at the time.  Every time someone on the show said, "Hi, Bob!" (which was frequent), you were to take a shot. There were lots of drunk college students watching CBS Saturday night.
Carol Kester became Mrs. Bonderant in the show's
final seasons.
The role of Carol Kester was written for Wallace, and she played the wise-cracking receptionist to the hilt.
This screen grab is from the 90s sitcom Murphy Brown, which included a running gag: Brown could never hold onto a secretary. Most episodes included her meeting her new assistant. It was a nice tribute to Marcia Wallace and Bob Newhart when Murphy's new secretary was "Carol," a transplant from Chicago.

Once her time with Bob was over, Marcia maintained a presence on television as a guest star on various sitcoms, and as a reliable celebrity on various game shows. 
Wallace's early career in improv came in handy
 as a frequent guest on Match Game.

I  may be in the minority for remembering her primarily from The Bob Newhart Show, as Wallace's obits have mentioned her relationship with The Simpsons far more often.  I do not watch The Simpsons, but she has apparently been playing a recurring character for many years, and even won an Emmy for her voice work in 1992.
Marcia voiced a recurring character on The Simpsons for over 100 episodes.  In 1992, a new category was introduced at the Emmys: Outstanding Voice Over Performance.  The award was juried, which meant that any number of actors could win, and that year, a whopping six did exactly that.  All the winners were from The Simpsons, including Marcia Wallace as Bart's teacher Edna Krabappel.
Marcia's memoir details her struggle with
breast cancer.
Marcia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, and became a vocal activist on the subject for the rest of her life.  As of this writing, it's unclear whether she died from cancer complications or from pneumonia, as has been announced by her son.  It really doesn't matter.  I spent every Saturday night with Marcia during those 70s years when she was part of the CBS lineup which dominated the TV Nielson ratings. 
The Bob Newhart Show won the Legend Award from TV Land, but when it was running, it received very little acclaim.  Throughout its six seasons, it received only two Emmy nominations, losing them both.  The show lasted only one year after Mary Tyler Moore left the airwaves, and its final episode poked a bit of fun at its big sister show.  MTM's final episode featured the cast singing "A Long Way to Tipperary." Bob Newhart's final episode featured their cast singing "Oklahoma."
Marcia continued to work as she battled cancer, guesting
on Columbo, Magnum P.I., and Love Boat, and
including a recurring role on
 Full House (above).
With her bright eyes and red hair, her wide smile showing huge teeth and lots of gum, and her precise comic timing, Marcia
Wallace was another example, to me, that actors "in support" had the most fun.