Jane Connell, Agnes Gooch of ‘Mame,’ Is Dead at 87 – NYTimes.com

Jane Connell, Agnes Gooch of ‘Mame,’ Is Dead at 87 - NYTimes.comJane Connell, a character actress best known for her portrayal of Agnes Gooch, the mousy secretary to the title character in the musical “Mame,” died on Sunday in Englewood, N.J. She was 87.

Her daughter Maggie Connell confirmed the death, at the Lillian Booth Actors Home of the Actors Fund.

Ms. Connell’s comedic flair tickled audiences for nearly six decades as she made her way from California nightclubs to the Broadway stage and beyond. In 1971, writing in The New York Times, Mel Gussow applauded her portrayal of Mrs. Hardcastle in a production of “She Stoops to Conquer.”

“She strides through this production with grace and confidence, never playing for laughs, but getting most of them,” he wrote, adding, “One would like to see her in Molière, Sheridan and Shaw.”

She performed in a dozen Broadway shows, including the revue “New Faces of 1956” and two productions of Jerry Herman’s “Mame,” with Angela Lansbury, in 1966 and 1983.

She also played Agnes Gooch in the 1974 movie version, starring Lucille Ball as Mame.

There were nearly as many Off Broadway shows, including the acclaimed 1954 production of “The Threepenny Opera,” starring Lotte Lenya, as well as national tours, regional productions and a great deal of television. She appeared on sitcoms like “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H” and “Bewitched” (she played Queen Victoria, among other roles) and, perhaps inevitably, “Law & Order.”

“Being a child of the Depression, she said, ‘I never, ever want to be out of work,’ ” the actor Peter Ratray, a close friend of the Connell family, recounted.

Jane Sperry Bennett was born on Oct. 27, 1925, in Oakland, Calif. In 1948 she married Gordon Connell, a fellow actor and musician, who survives her, along with her daughters, Maggie and Melissa Connell.

The Connells worked in some of the most famous nightclubs of the day, performing musical revues at clubs including the Purple Onion and the hungry i in San Francisco and Le Ruban Bleu and Upstairs at the Downstairs in New York. A Times review by Arthur Gelb of a 1962 Off Broadway revue, “No Shoestrings,” called her “one of our most gifted comediennes.”

“She has a comical way of puffing up her face like a pouter pigeon and of hitting a high note with a kind of hysterical relief that she got there,” Mr. Gelb wrote.

In later years Ms. Connell had a wealth of Broadway roles. “Everybody was rediscovering this funny older actress,” her agent, Steven Unger, said.

She appeared on Broadway in three shows written by Ken Ludwig: “Lend Me a Tenor” in 1989, the Gershwin musical “Crazy for You” in 1992 and “Moon Over Buffalo,” starring Carol Burnett, in 1995. She was also in Mr. Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies,” which did not reach Broadway, in 2004. Her last Broadway role, in 2001, was in “The Full Monty,” a musical adaptation of the hit 1997 film; she took over as Jeanette, the jaded pianist, after the death of Kathleen Freeman, who created the role on Broadway.

Maggie Connell said that her mother loved the life of a character actor, someone who might not have the most lines but gets many of the juiciest ones: “She liked to hit and run, as she put it.”

Jane Connell, Agnes Gooch of ‘Mame,’ Is Dead at 87 – NYTimes.com.

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