Kathleen Freeman, a veteran character actress whose face if not her name was known to audiences from television sitcoms, the film classic "Singin' in the Rain" and Broadway's "The Full Monty," died Thursday of lung cancer. She was 82.
Freeman gave her final performance in "The Full Monty" last Saturday. She played a sassy piano player in the hit musical and earned a Tony nomination in May.
Big, brash and funny were Freeman's trademarks in playing recalcitrant maids, demented nuns, mouthy housekeepers, battle-ax mothers, irate landladies and nosy neighbors.
Starting in the Golden Age of television, Freeman appeared in such shows as "Topper," "The Donna Reed Show," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Hogan's Heroes," "The Lucy Show," "The Golden Girls," "Murphy Brown" and "Married ... With Children."
"This will sound very corny and I'm sorry," Freeman said last year in an Associated Press interview, "but I have always had the sense I was put here to do this: I am somebody who is around to help the world laugh. I have always had that sense. Corny but absolutely true."
One of her biggest fans was comedian Jerry Lewis, and she appeared in 10 of his movies including "The Ladies Man" and "The Disorderly Orderly."
"I have never known an artist who loved doing what they do more than Kathleen," Lewis said last year. "She comes to work with such an energy and passion."
In "Singin' in the Rain," considered by many to be the best movie musical ever made, she played Jean Hagen's frustrated voice teacher. Among Freeman's other films were the sci-fi thriller "The Fly," "The Rounders" with Henry Fonda, "Far Country" with Jimmy Stewart, and "North to Alaska" starring John Wayne. More recently she appeared in "Dragnet," "Gremlins II," "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" and both "Blues Brothers" comedies.
Freeman was born in Chicago and was propelled into show business at age 2. Her parents had a vaudeville act, Dixon and Freeman, in which their daughter did a little dance.
Freeman attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where she majored in music and was going to be a classical pianist. Then, she said, "A terrible thing happened. I got in a play and got a laugh. I just said a line and, 'boom.'"
Freeman then worked in many small theater groups, including the Circle Players, acting for such eminent directors--and actors--as Charles Laughton, Charlie Chaplin and Robert Morley.
At the same time, the early 1950s, the television explosion took over Los Angeles. From her first regular sitcom role, as the maid in "Topper," Freeman went on to do just about every sitcom of the last 50 years.
For all her voluminous credits, Freeman's stage credits were mostly on the road--touring as Miss Hannigan in "Annie" for 18 months, then in "Deathtrap" and later with Lauren Bacall in "Woman of the Year."
Her only other Broadway appearance was for five months in the 1978 production of "13 Rue de l'Amore" starring Louis Jordan.
Memorial services are planned in New York and Los Angeles.
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