1-10-1942 - 25-10-2013
Marcia Wallace, the bubbly comic actor who greeted doctors and group-therapy patients on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s and burnished the image of jaded, substance-abusing fourth-grade teachers as the Emmy Award-winning voice of Edna Krabappel for more than two decades on animated hit The Simpsons, has died in Los Angeles. She was 70.
Wallace had been a breast cancer survivor since 1985, and a vocal one, lecturing on the subject and appearing on a 1998 cover of People magazine with fellow survivors.
The role of Carol Kester, the eager, husband-hunting receptionist shared by a mild-mannered psychologist (Newhart) and an eccentric bachelor orthodontist (Peter Bonerz) on The Bob Newhart Show, was written for Wallace, and she appeared in almost every episode of the series, which ran on CBS from 1972 to 1978.
After the show ended, jobs were hard to come by because Wallace was so strongly identified with her character. But she had guest appearances on series including Full House, Murphy Brown and 7th Heaven, and appeared in a handful of films.
She also became a regular on television game shows and pursued a stage career. In her 2004 memoir, Don't Look Back: We're Not Going That Way!, she recalled portraying a stripper in Gypsy in Long Beach, California, and falling in love with musical theatre.
"I've decided never to go any place without an orchestra," she wrote, "which will complicate dating and travelling."
Wallace married Dennis Hawley, a hotelier, in 1986. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1992.
In 2001, she played a White House maid in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's short-lived political-satire sitcom That's My Bush! In 2009, she had a recurring role, as a bumbling kidnapper, on the daytime drama The Young and the Restless. Her last film, Muffin Top: A Love Story, is scheduled for release next year; its cast also includes her son, Michael Hawley, who survives her.
Producers of The Simpsons announced that the Edna Krabappel character, who had found happiness in recent seasons with the Simpson family's neighbour, Ned Flanders, would be retired from the series. Krabappel, whose trademark "Ha!" punctuated her frequent wisecracks, also had a long, frustrating relationship with Principal Skinner.
Marcia Karen Wallace was born on November 1, 1942, in Creston, Iowa. She was the oldest of three children of Arthur Wallace, a shopkeeper, and Joann, his wife.
Wallace majored in English and theatre at Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa, and moved to New York immediately after graduation. While she studied acting, her jobs included substitute teaching in the Bronx and typing scripts.
Spotted while working unpaid with a group of other young comedians, she became a frequent guest on Merv Griffin's television talk show. In those days comedians often sat with the host and told funny anecdotes rather than performing stand-up acts on the air. Her first on-screen role was as an ad-agency secretary in a 1971 episode of Bewitched.
When she was named a Delta Zeta Woman of the Year by her university sorority, Wallace was asked what influences had kept her feet on the ground.
"Midwestern work ethic. What else?" she said. "I've always been an optimist and a real hard worker and had a passion. I figured I may as well go for my dream."