Nancy Walker

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Nancy Walker
Anna Myrtle Swoyer

(1922-05-10)May 10, 1922
DiedMarch 25, 1992(1992-03-25) (aged 69)
Studio City, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other namesNan Barto
OccupationActress, director
Years active1937–1992
Gar Moore
(m. 1948;div. 1949)

David Craig
(m. 1951)

Nancy Walker (born Anna Myrtle Swoyer; [1] May 10, 1922 – March 25, 1992) was an American actress and comedian of stage, screen, and television. She was also a film and television director (lending her talents to The Mary Tyler Moore Show , on which she also made several guest appearances). During her five-decade-long career, she may be best remembered for her long-running roles as Mildred on McMillan & Wife and Ida Morgenstern, who first appeared on several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later became a prominent recurring character on the spinoff series Rhoda .


Early life

Walker was born in 1922 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the elder of two daughters of vaudevillian Dewey Barto (né Stewart Steven Swoyer) and Myrtle Flemming Lawler, a dancer. The couple wed in Manhattan in 1919. Walker and her father both stood 4'11" (1.50 m). Her younger sister was Betty Lou Barto.

Acting career

Nancy Walker, Sebastian Cabot, and Brian Keith on Family Affair (1970) Sebastian Cabot, Nancy Walker, Brian Keith (Family Affair - 1970, CBS Television) (1).jpg
Nancy Walker, Sebastian Cabot, and Brian Keith on Family Affair (1970)

In 1937, as "Nan Barto", Walker appeared on the NBC radio programs Coast to Coast on a Bus and Our Barn. [2] She made her Broadway debut in 1941 in Best Foot Forward. The role provided Walker with her film debut, when she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to appear in the 1943 film version, starring Lucille Ball. She also appeared with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the second film version of Girl Crazy (1943). Her next film, Broadway Rhythm , in which she had a featured musical number backed by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra, "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet", ended Walker's contract with MGM.

Her dry comic delivery enabled her to continue acting throughout the 1940s and 1950s, originating the roles of Hildy Eszterhazy ("I Can Cook, Too!") in On the Town (1944) and Lily Malloy in Look Ma, I'm Dancin'! (1948) on Broadway. She was nominated for a Tony Award in 1956 for her work in the musical revue Phoenix '55, and again in 1960 for her performance in Do Re Mi , opposite Phil Silvers.

Walker also starred in the short-lived Broadway musical comedy Copper and Brass in 1957, and appeared in the 1958 New York City Center production of Wonderful Town . For the early 1970s revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum , she appeared again opposite Silvers, playing the character of Domina. Owing to her television contractual responsibilities, she was unable to transfer with the show to Broadway. Her musical appearances led to record releases, including I Hate Men (1959; with Sid Bass and his orchestra, featuring such show tunes as "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "You Irritate Me So"); the cover featured Walker humorously sticking male dolls with pins. [3]

Walker's first appearance as Ida Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1970 Nancy Walker Mary Tyler Moore Mary Tyler Moore Show 1970.JPG
Walker's first appearance as Ida Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show , 1970

Dozens of television guest appearances and recurring roles followed, providing her with steady work. Her career spanned five decades and included comedies, dramas, and television variety shows such as Faye Emerson's Wonderful Town , The Garry Moore Show , and The Carol Burnett Show .

In the 1960–61 television season, she appeared in two episodes of NBC's The Tab Hunter Show . In 1970, she secured a recurring role as Emily, the housekeeper, on the television series Family Affair , which starred Brian Keith. After five seasons, though, the ratings of Family Affair had plummeted opposite NBC's popular The Flip Wilson Show , and the series was cancelled at the end of that season.

In 1970, she also made her first appearance playing Ida Morgenstern, the mother of Valerie Harper's character Rhoda Morgenstern on the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The role proved to be ideal for her. The episode that introduced her character, "Support Your Local Mother", was so well-received that it won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in a Comedy Series for James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Walker thereafter became an annual guest star on the show for the next three years. When the MTM spinoff series Rhoda premiered in 1974, Walker was a regular cast member in 41 episodes. [4]

From 1971 to 1976, she was a regular on the successful Rock Hudson detective series McMillan & Wife, playing the McMillans' housekeeper, Mildred. During the first two years of Rhoda, Walker was not featured every week, so she was able to shuttle back and forth between the CBS sitcom and the NBC detective series. These two roles brought her seven Emmy Award nominations. In 1976, ABC-TV offered Walker a contract to headline her own series, The Nancy Walker Show , which was produced by Norman Lear's production company, in which she starred as Nancy Kittredge, a talent agent. Walker appeared on a second-season episode of The Muppet Show . [5]

Before she filmed the first episode of the series, Walker made her only appearance on Rhoda for the 1976–77 season. In the season premiere, "The Separation", Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and her husband Joe (David Groh) decide to separate. Rhoda tries to keep the news from her mother Ida (Walker), since Ida is about to embark on a year-long trip across America with Rhoda's father (Harold Gould). Ida learns the truth from Rhoda prior to Ida's departure.

Almost immediately, Garry Marshall signed Walker for another series, Blansky's Beauties . The main character of the series was introduced a week before the series premiere in an episode of the hit sitcom, Happy Days . The show premiered on ABC-TV in February 1977 with Walker playing Nancy Blansky, den mother to a group of Las Vegas showgirls. It failed to find an audience and was cancelled in May 1977, giving Walker the unenviable distinction of being in two failed series in the same year. She returned to Rhoda at the beginning of the 1977–78 season (giving the show a much-needed boost in the ratings, which had fallen the previous year), and remained with the series for the rest of its run. During this time, she began directing, including episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda , 13 Queens Boulevard , and Alice .[ citation needed ]

Walker as Rosie in a 1977 magazine ad with Vito Scotti Nancy Walker Rosie Bounty ad 1977.JPG
Walker as Rosie in a 1977 magazine ad with Vito Scotti

One of Walker's last major film roles was in the 1976 all-star comedy spoof Murder by Death . She continued to remain active in show business until her death, playing Rosie, a New Jersey diner waitress in a series of commercials for Bounty paper towels from 1970 to 1990. She helped make the product's slogan, "the quicker picker-upper", a common catchphrase. [6] She credited the towel commercials with landing her the role of Ida Morgenstern. [7]

Among her final guest appearances in a television series was the recurring role of Aunt Angela, Sophia Petrillo's (Estelle Getty) widowed sister, on The Golden Girls , for which she received an Emmy Award nomination. Golden Girls creator Susan Harris then cast Walker opposite Bruce Weitz in her NBC sitcom project Mama's Boy , which aired as six comedy specials during the 1987–88 season, but never reached series status.[ citation needed ]

In 1990, Walker began starring on the Fox sitcom True Colors as Sara Bower, the outspoken mother of Ellen Davis Freeman (Stephanie Faracy), who moves into Ellen's household despite having objections to her daughter's interracial marriage. In 1990, Walker appeared as herself in the Columbo episode "Uneasy Lies the Crown".

Directing career

Walker had guest starred as Rhoda's mother Ida Morgenstern in several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and continued that role in its spin-off Rhoda. After establishing the character, Walker directed some episodes of both series, along with episodes of other situation comedy series. [8]

In 1980, Walker made her feature-film directorial debut, directing disco group The Village People and Olympian Caitlyn Jenner in the pseudoautobiographical musical Can't Stop the Music . The film was a box-office failure, and Walker's sole feature-film directorial credit. After the film, she did some stage and television directing, including three episodes of the situation comedy Alice. [8]


Walker died in 1992 of lung cancer. [9]

Personal life

Walker was married twice. Her first husband was Joseph Garland Moore Jr., known as "Gar Moore", whom she wed on August 1, 1948. They divorced within 10 months. She remarried, to musical theater teacher David Craig on January 29, 1951. Craig died in 1998 at the age of 75 from lung cancer. [10] The couple had a daughter, Miranda Craig, an advertising copywriter, who died at age 47 from undisclosed causes.[ citation needed ]

Walker was also a close friend of actor Montgomery Clift. His biographer Patricia Bosworth stated the two first met in 1948, but did not become good friends until 10 years later, after Clift's disfiguring car accident. Bosworth adds that Walker would sustain him as his dearest friend for the rest of his life; their relationship was one of mutual support – whereas most of Clift's friends assumed he needed to be looked after, or else left alone, Walker stated, "he needed to be needed", adding "I liked his face better after the accident; his strength shone through." Clift nicknamed friends for whom he felt particular affection, and he called Walker "Nanny". [11]

Walker was a Democrat who supported Adlai Stevenson's campaign during the 1952 presidential election. [12]


1943 Best Foot Forward Nancy – Blind Date
1943 Girl Crazy Polly Williams
1944 Broadway Rhythm Trixie Simpson
1954 Lucky Me Flo Neely
1972 Stand Up and Be Counted Agnes
1973 The World's Greatest Athlete Mrs. Petersen
1973 40 Carats Mrs. Margie Margolin
1975 Death Scream Mrs. Jacobs
1976 Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood Mrs. Fromberg
1976 Murder by Death Maid
1959The World of Sholom AleichemWifePlay of the Week "Tale of Chelm"
1959–1964 The Garry Moore Show HerselfRegular guest star (13 episodes)
1960 The Tab Hunter Show Buddy ParkerEpisode: "I Love a Marine"
1970–1971 Family Affair Emily TurnerRecurring role (6 episodes)
1971–1974 The Mary Tyler Moore Show Ida MorgensternRecurring role (4 episodes)
1971–1976 McMillan & Wife MildredMain cast (32 episodes)
1972 Bridget Loves Bernie Aunt RuthieEpisode: "The Little White Lie That Grew"
1973 The Partridge Family Mrs. ApplebaumEpisode: "Aspirin at 7, dinner at 8"
1974 Thursday's Game Mrs. BenderTelevision film
1974–1978 Rhoda Ida MorgensternMain cast (42 episodes)
1976–1977 The Nancy Walker Show Nancy KitteridgeMain role (13 episodes)
1977 Blansky's Beauties Nancy BlanskyMain role (13 episodes)
1978 Fantasy Island MumsyEpisode: "The Common Man"
1982 Trapper John, M.D. Harriett KriegerEpisode: "42"
1987 The Golden Girls AngelaRecurring role (2 episodes)
1987–1988 Mama's Boy Molly McCaskeyMain role (6 episodes)
1989 Newhart Aunt LouiseEpisode: "Attack of the Killer Aunt"
1990 Columbo HerselfEpisode: "Uneasy Lies the Crown"
1990–1992 True Colors Sara BowerMain cast (46 episodes)

Stage/musical theatre work

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  1. Often mistranscribed as "Smoyer"
  2. Delaney, Betsy Marks (June 25, 2013). "Little Theatre of Alexandria Twentieth Century". ShowBizRadio. ShowBiz Theater Network LLC. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
  3. DiFonzo, Nick (2004). The WORST album covers in the world... EVER!. London: New Holland Publishers. p. 85. ISBN   978-1843308881.. The album cover and a discussion of the album can be seen here and here
  4. Rhoda (TV Series 1974–1978) - IMDb , retrieved 2021-12-27
  5. Garlen, Jennifer C.; Graham, Anissa M. (October 26, 2009). Kermit Culture: Critical Perspectives on Jim Henson's Muppets. McFarland & Company. p. 218. ISBN   978-0786453757.
  6. Davis, Dyer (May 1, 2004). Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter and Gamble. Harvard Business Press. p. 280. ISBN   9781591391470 . Retrieved 2013-05-07.
  7. "Nancy Walker, 69, of 'Rhoda' And Paper-Towel Commercials". The New York Times . March 26, 1992. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  8. 1 2 "Nancy Walker: Credits". TV Guide . Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  9. "Feisty Nancy Walker loses long battle with cancer". UPI. 25 March 1992. Archived from the original on December 13, 2021.
  10. "David Craig, 75, Singing Instructor". The New York Times. September 5, 1998. Retrieved October 2, 2018.
  11. Bosworth, Patricia (June 5, 2012). Montgomery Clift: A Biography. Open Road Media. pp. 322–323. ISBN   978-1453245019.
  12. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers


Thomas S. Hischak. The Oxford Companion to the American Musical: theatre, film, and television (June 2008), Oxford University Press, USA ( ISBN   0195335333)

"Betty Lou Swoyer, aka Betty Lou Barto" 2022.