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Kathleen Freeman

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Kathleen Freeman

Kathleen Freeman
Kathleen Freeman in the late 1960s
Born (1919-02-17)February 17, 1919
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died August 23, 2001(2001-08-23) (aged 82)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death
Lung cancer
Resting place
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Years active 1948–2001
Religion Religious Science International

Kathleen Freeman (February 17, 1919 – August 23, 2001) was an American film, television, and stage actress. In a career that spanned more than fifty years, she portrayed acerbic maids, secretaries, teachers, busybodies, nurses, and battle-axe neighbors, almost invariably to comic effect.[1]

Early life

Freeman was born in Chicago, Illinois. She began her career as a child, dancing in her parents' vaudeville act. After a stint studying music at University of California, Los Angeles, she went into acting full-time, working on the stage, and finally entering films in 1948. She was a founding member, in 1946, of the Circle Players at The Circle Theatre, now known as El Centro Theatre.


Freeman made her film debut in Wild Harvest (1947).[2] Freeman's most notable early role was an uncredited part in the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain, as Jean Hagen's articulate diction coach Phoebe Dinsmore.

Beginning with the 1954 film, 3 Ring Circus, Freeman became a favorite foil of Jerry Lewis, playing opposite him in 11 films.[3] These included most of Lewis's better known comedies, including The Disorderly Orderly as Nurse Higgins, The Errand Boy as the studio boss's wife, and especially The Nutty Professor as Millie Lemon. Over 30 years later, she made a small cameo appearance in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.[4]

Other film roles included appearances in The Missouri Traveler (1958), the horror film The Fly (1958), the Western spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and appearances in a spate of comedies in the 1980s and 1990s. Freeman played Sister Mary Stigmata (referred to as The Penguin) in John Landis' The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, had cameos in Joe Dante's Innerspace and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (as tipsy cooking host Microwave Marge in 2), and a Ma Barker type gangster mother in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.[4]

In addition to teaching acting classes in Los Angeles, Freeman was a familiar presence on television. In 1958 and 1959, she appeared three times on Buckskin, a children's program set in a hotel in a fictitious Montana town. She appeared from the 1950s until her death in regular or recurring roles on many sitcoms, including six episodes of The Bob Cummings Show (as Bertha Krause), Topper (as Katie the maid), and The Donna Reed Show (as Mrs. Celia Wilgus, the Stone's busybody next door neighbor, with Howard McNear as her husband, Wilbur).[4]

In the 1970s she volunteered her time to provide performance feedback and comedic insight to student actors at the UNM Drama Festival.

Freeman was cast on Hogan's Heroes (as Frau Gertrude Linkmeyer, General Burkhalter's sister, who longed to wed Colonel Klink), Funny Face (as Mrs. Kate Harwell, Sandy Duncan's landlady and friend), I Dream of Jeannie (as a grouchy supervisor in a fantasy preview of Major Nelson's future), the short-lived prehistoric sitcom It's About Time (as Mrs. Boss), and as the voice of Peg Bundy's mom, an unseen character on Married... with Children.[4]

She remained active in her last two years, with a regular voice role on As Told By Ginger, a voice bit in the animated feature film Shrek, a guest appearance on the sitcom Becker and scoring a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for her role as Jeannette Burmeister in the Broadway musical version of The Full Monty.[5]

In her final episode of As Told By Ginger, Season 2's "No Hope For Courtney", Freeman's character, Mrs. Gordon, retires from her teaching job although two of her students try convincing her to return to work. The script was originally written to have Mrs. Gordon come back to work, but Freeman died before the episode was finished. The script was then re-written and Mrs. Gordon died as well. The episode was dedicated in Freeman's memory.


Weakened by illness, Freeman was forced to leave the Full Monty cast. Five days later, she died of lung cancer at age 82. Her ashes are inurned in a niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California. British reports of her death included her surviving long-time companion, Helen Ramsey,[6] but U.S. obituaries did not.



  1. ^ Jesse McKinley (August 24, 2001). "Kathleen Freeman, 78, Actress Playing Comic Character Roles".  
  2. ^ "Freeman, Kathleen (1919–2001)." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages. Ed. Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer. Vol. 1. Detroit: Yorkin Publications, 2007. 692. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. March 18, 2014.
  3. ^ "Jerry Lewis tells it like it is — and was", USA Today, August 29, 2002; retrieved March 6, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d Kathleen Freeman at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Kathleen Freeman at the Internet Broadway Database
  6. ^ Obituary: Kathleen Freeman,; accessed October 7, 2014.

External links

  • Kathleen Freeman Remembered
  • Interview with Kathleen Freeman
  • Kathleen Freeman at Find a Grave
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