Beth Howland, who earned four Golden Globe nominations for her regular supporting role on the long-running CBS sitcom Alice, has died. She was 74. Her husband, Murphy Brown actor Charles Kimbrough, told the Associated Press that Howland died December 31 of lung cancer in Santa Monica.
She began her career at 16 on Broadway in the original 1960 production of Bye Bye Birdie starring Dick Van Dyke. Howland appeared in four other Main Stem shows during the next decade then focused on television in the ’70s. She guested on such series as Mary Tyler Moore, Cannon, Little House on the Prairie and The Rookies before landing her most famous role.
The Boston native played Vera, the shy, impressionable waitress at Mel’s Diner, for the entire nine-season run of Alice. The series starring Linda Lavin as a recently widowed mother who relocates with her son from New Jersey to Phoenix and makes ends meet as a waitress while trying to launch a singing career. The series bounced around the CBS schedule during its first two seasons but became a hit as the lead-out of All in the Family on Sunday nights in October 1977. It was among primetime’s top 10 series in four of the next five seasons, falling to No. 13 overall in 1978-79 but climbing to No. 4 the following year. It wrapped in 1985, having endured more than a dozen time-slot changes. Howland and Lavin were the only cast members to appear in all 202 episodes of the series, which was based on Martin Scorsese’s 1974 feature Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Vic Tayback, Philip McKeon and Polly Holliday also starred.
During Alice’s run, Howland appeared in a half-dozen episodes of The Love Boat and did a handful of TV movies. She worked sporadically in TV after 1985, guesting on series including Murder, She Wrote, Eight Is Enough and The Tick. In the late 1980s, Howland and singer-songwriter Jennifer Warnes created Tiger Rose Productions, which produced the Oscar-winning documentary short You Don’t Have to Die about a boy’s fight with cancer. She returned to Broadway for a two-night concert staging of Company in 1993.
In addition to Kimbrough, Howland is survived by a daughter from her earlier marriage to Oscar-nominated Bonnie & Clyde actor Michael J. Pollard.