Bill Macy, the actor who made an indelible imprint on 1970s sitcoms with his portrayal on Norman Lear’s Maude of the loving if always up-for-an-argument Walter Findlay, died last night in Los Angeles. He was 97.
Macy’s death was announced by his producer and manager Matt Beckoff, writing on Facebook “My buddy Bill Macy passed away at 7:13pm tonight. He was a spitfire right up to the end…My condolences to his beautiful wife Samantha Harper Macy.” (See the post below.)
Macy costarred in the 1972-78 All in the Family spin-off series opposite Bea Arthur, who played the outspoken liberal Maude Findlay, a cousin of Family‘s Edith Bunker.
Macy’s post-Maude credits include 1979’s Steve Martin vehicle The Jerk, 1982’s My Favorite Year, Movers & Shakers (1985), Tales from the Darkside (1986), Me, Myself and I (1992), Analyze This (1999), Surviving Christmas (2004), The Holiday (2006), and Mr. Woodcock (2007), among many others.
Numerous TV appearances both before and after his signature Maude role include roles on Law & Order, St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, The Facts of Life, NYPD Blue, and My Name Is Earl. Macy appeared, along with other former sitcom stars like Jesse White and Ann Morgan Guilbert, as one of the retirees of Del Boca Vista, Florida, in episodes of Seinfeld.
Prior to Maude, Macy had made an uncredited appearance in Mel Brooks’ The Producers, co-starred opposite Art Carney and Lilly Tomlin in 1977’s feature The Late Show, and was one of the original 1969 cast members of the Off Broadway landmark Oh, Calcutta!, where he met actress Samantha Harper, whom he’d marry in 1975. She survives him.
But it was as Maude’s Walter Findlay, the owner of Findlay’s Friendly Appliances in Tuckahoe, N.Y., husband to Maude, best friend to Conrad Bain’s buffoonish Arthur and step-dad (or one of them) to Maude’s adult daughter Carol, played by Adrienne Barbeau, that Macy had his breakthrough. His catchphrase on the show – “Maude, sit!”, at which point an arguing Maude would usually shut up and sit down – was a consistent laugh-getter, a signal that Walter could be pushed only so far, much the way Edith Bunker would occasionally snap back at husband Archie.
In a notable storyline of Maude, Walter began showing signs of alcoholism, leading to an argument with his wife that ended in a unique show of physical violence: He slapped her. Repentant, Walter sought help, though his status as a recovering alcoholic was occasionally mentioned thereafter.
Macy’s wife, Samantha Harper, appeared on at least one episode of Maude, and later became a regular on Lear’s Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.