Kaye Ballard, a comic actress and singer who was a regular presence on TV for decades and starred in the late-’60s NBC comedy The Mothers-in-Law, has died. Palm Springs-area paper The Desert Sun reported that the star also known for The Girl Most Likely and a half-dozen Broadway musicals died Monday at her home in Rancho Mirage.
Ballard had appeared on a couple of TV programs when she was cast as Marge opposite Jane Powell and Cliff Robertson in the 1958 big-screen musical comedy remake of The Girl Most Likely. She would appear in a handful of movies in the ensuing decades, but TV was her go-to medium.
In 1967 she starred with Eve Arden in The Mothers-in-Law, playing half of an unconventional couple, the Buells, who was best friends with their very-straight suburban neighbors the Hubbards (Arden and Herbert Rudley). The series struggled to lure viewers in its 8:30 Sunday slot against CBS’ The Ed Sullivan Show and ABC’s The F.B.I.
Ballard would land a second series-regular role more than 30 years later, this time playing a pushy neighbor of star Stephen Dorff in the syndicated ventriloquist comedy What a Dummy. It aired two dozen episodes in 1990-91.
She also recurred on The Doris Day Show in the early 1970s, made dozens of visits to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and The Mike Douglas Show and did more than a 150 episodes of The Hollywood Squares from 1967-69 and again in 1975., Ballard also guested on dozens of TV shows form the 1950s into the ’90s. Among them were such popular series as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Red Skelton Hour, Police Story, Alice, All My Children, The Muppets, Due South and anthology series Love American Style, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.
Ballard’s stage credits stretch back to a 1946 national tour of Three to Make Ready, and she made her Broadway debut in 1952’s Top Banana, a musical comedy starring Phil Silvers, returning to the Broadway stage in 1954’s The Golden Apple. But her highest-profile production was 1961’s Carnival!, a musical written by Bob Merrill, directed by Gower Champion and produced by David Merrick. Her co-star was a young Jerry Orbach.
A couple of short-lived Broadway productions followed before Ballard appeared in the most arguably successful — or at least highest-profile — stage production of her career: the New York Shakespeare Festival’s 1981 production of The Pirates of Penzance starring Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt. Ballard was among the replacement cast, taking over the role of Ruth from Estelle Parsons.
Born on November 20, 1925, in Cleveland, Ballard was onstage for a 2013 TV Academy panel called “Retire from Showbiz? No Thanks!” Indeed she was working on a feature at the time of her death titled Senior Moment, featuring such other veteran actors as William, Shatner and Christopher Lloyd, per IMDb.
The Desert Sun also reported that Ballard attended a screening of a documentary on her career titles Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On, less than two weeks ago at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. It said she was greeted by mobs of fans and that the showing was interrupted by spontaneous applause more than half a dozen times.
Greg Evans contributed to this report.