Mary Willard, playwright, TV writer and wife of four-time Emmy nominee Fred Willard, has died at the age of 71.
Willard died on July 13, but news of her death was recently made public.
Champion is the one word that comes to mind when remembering Mary Willard and she wasn’t just Fred Willard’s best cheerleader, but she also mentored and nurtured a number of creative comedic writers and actors through the Willards’ Los Angeles-based comedy sketch group The Mohos over the last two-plus decades (which anecdotally I was a part of some years ago).
‘Let’s put on a show’ was an unofficial mantra, and within less than two-weeks time, the troupe would pull wigs out of the closet and brush up pages for performances at the IO West and The Bang Theater and even as far as the Inland Empire. Those trying out sketches at Mohos had the opportunity to cast and bounce material off of such distinguished comedic personalities as Fred Willard himself, Laugh-In‘s Jo Anne Worley, Saturday Night Live Emmy-winning writer T. Sean Shannon, CHiPs and Raising Hope actor Lou Wagner, late Groundling co-founding member Kip King (father of Chris Kattan), voice-over actor Bill Farmer (Disney’s official voice of Goofy and Pluto).
Mary had a wonderful laugh and even when a joke fell flat in the room, she always got a writer back on track. In addition, Mary directed the Moho shows and always knew how to stage the laughs. She was also known for throwing great Christmas and July 4th parties at the Willard home where the evening was typically capped off by sketch performances related to the holiday. She also had a huge heart. When Moho member Charlie Shannon unexpectedly passed away many years ago, she had the Mohos hold a retrospective of his sketches with the group for a memorial performance. Mary was also a great philanthropist and worked very hard to raise money for PETA, Actors & Others for Animals and was President of Farrah’s Angels for The Farrah Fawcett Foundation.
Mary was born March 8, 1947 in Boston Massachusetts and graduated from University of Maryland. She met Fred in San Francisco and they were married for 50 years. As a playwright, her first play, the comedy, Elvis and Juliet, opened in February 1994 and enjoyed a one year successful, sold out run at the Theatre at the Improv in Hollywood. In June 2007 Elvis and Juliet opened off Broadway at the Abingdon theatre and enjoyed a six week sold out run. The New Yorker called it a “zingy comedy of manners.” In October 2009 it had a successful run at the Grove Theatre in Upland, California. Elvis and Juliet had staged readings in five countries and 15 cities on the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s 70th birthday.
Her musical comedy Moon Shine!, with music and lyrics by Marty Stuart, was produced at the Grove in the summer 2004. It garnered three Inland Empire awards. Moon Shine! was first presented at the ASCAP/Disney Musical theatre workshop at the Disney Studios in Burbank, in 2003. A production of Moon Shine! in Los Angeles was nominated for 11 and won three Artistic Director Awards in Spring of 2008.
Other works include Her eight women and two men play An Occasional Sin, produced by the Company of Angels Theatre in Los Angeles in 2005; Deathtroupe, produced by the Grove Theatre in Upland, California in 2010; and A Really, Really, Good Time, Holly Jolly, Christmas Carol produced by the Grove in December 2012. In 1995 her short plays, Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch, At The Vanity Fair, The Old Folks At Home, The Wedding Waltz, A Little New York Romance, Murder, She Rewrote, and Chateaux Beaux Eaux were produced by the Burbage Theatre in Los Angeles as “A Show Of Farce.” Her television credits include A Year At The Top, produced by Norman Lear, starring Greg Evigan and Paul Shaffer; Fernwood Tonight and a “ghostwriting” stint for The Love Boat. She also appeared as a regular on ABC’s The Home Show.
Mary started attending the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in the early 1990’s where she enjoyed studying playwriting with Marsha Norman, Horton Foote, Romulus Linney and Doris Baizley. She also enjoyed studying fiction writing with such luminaries as Tim O’Brien, Alice McDermott, Tony Early, Ernest Gaines and Richard Ford. In memory of Mary, The Mary Willard Scholarship in playwriting is funded by the friends of Mary Willard. The scholarship will cover the cost of tuition for a playwright to attend the Sewanee Conference each summer.
Mary leaves behind Fred, their daughter Hope, Grandson Freddy, son-in-law Mitch Mulbarger and a multitude of friends who already miss her laugh.