Dena Dietrich, a character actress who appeared in numerous TV shows and on Broadway but was instantly recognizable as the face of Mother Nature from a popular, long-running commercial campaign for Chiffon margarine, died Saturday, Nov. 21 of natural causes in a Los Angeles health care facility. She was 91.
Her death was confirmed by SAG-AFTRA in a statement honoring Dietrich’s service as a former SAG National Board member for nearly a decade.
With an impeccable delivery and a lightning shift in mood from matronly sweet to thunderous anger, Dietrich first uttered what would become a classic commercial catchphrase – “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” – in 1971. The commercials, created by the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles advertising agency, had Dietrich dressed in a diaphanous white gown and a daisy-chain laurel, test-tasting what she was sure to be her very own natural butter. Told by a narrator that she was actually eating Chiffon margarine, the character sternly replied with the catchphrase, accompanied by a thunderclap.
The commercial series ran for a decade and helped make Dietrich a very busy character actress on episodic TV throughout the 1990s and into the new century. Among her TV credits are The Mod Squad, Adam’s Rib, Karen, Welcome Back Kotter, The Ropers, Square Pegs, Life With Lucy, Thirtysomething, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Golden Girls, Sisters, Murphy Brown and Mad About You.
Among her later credits was a recurring role as Judge Ellen Armstrong on the Steven Bochco 2001 legal drama Philly. She also recurred on the soaps All My Children and Santa Barbara.
On Broadway, Dietrich played Pauline in the original 1971 production of Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Peter Falk and Lee Grant. She also appeared in the notorious flop Here’s Where I Belong, a musical based on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that opened and closed on March 3 1968.
Dietrich’s film credits include The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974), The Wild Party (1975) and Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I (1981), in which she played the handmaid Competence, delivering a memorable straight line to Madeline Kahn’s Empress Nympho.
Dietrich left no survivors.
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