Some might have easily doled out the phrase “laughing on the outside, crying on the inside” to describe funny lady Marcia Wallace and her many uphill battles, in both life and career, over the past three-and-a-half decades, but the carrot-cropped comedienne, with the ever-toothy smile, remains optimistic to this day as she forges on, displaying her usual grab-bag of comedy tricks on film, TV and in voice-overs. The Iowa-born and bred actress endured a troubled childhood (alcoholism, physical abuse) and headed quickly to New York to pursue her dream, following college graduation. She initially induced laughs because of a weight problem, playing plump, self-deprecating characters in such musicals as “The Music Man”. She also supplemented her very modest income at the time, substitute teaching in the Bronx.
Managing to drop much of her excess weight over time, she found, to her delight, that she could still make people laugh. Finding an invaluable training ground with the improvisational comedy group, “The Fourth Wall”, in 1968, she appeared with the company off-Broadway for a spell. In between times, she studied with acting guru, Uta Hagen. She fleshed out her on-camera resume at first with bit roles on such shows as Bewitched (1964), Columbo (1971) and Love, American Style (1969) and received her initial on-camera break with recurring appearances on The Merv Griffin Show (1962). As a direct result, she won the best role of her career as “Carol Kester”, the chatty, lovelorn receptionist on The Bob Newhart Show (1972), after only a year or so in Hollywood. For seven years, Marcia won tons of fans as the brash, slightly ditsy co-worker and confidante who was always looking for that “special guy” to walk through the door.
Guesting on all the popular lightweight shows of the day (Murder, She Wrote (1984), Magnum, P.I. (1980), Taxi (1978)), she also added to the fun on Full House (1987), Charles in Charge (1984) and ALF (1986), in which she nabbed recurring roles. Marcia became just as popular as a celebrity game show panelist, particularly The Match Game (1962). On the summer stock and dinner theater circuits, she appeared in such engaging comedies as “Plaza Suite”, “Born Yesterday”, “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers”, as well as the musicals “Gypsy” and “Promises, Promises”. Following her “Newhart” success, her career waned and her health began to decline as time went on. She is grateful to be a 15-year survivor of breast cancer and keeps herself quite visible as an advocate for breast cancer awareness. She was also the prime caretaker for her husband, Denny Hawley, when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away in 1992. They have one child.
Nevertheless, Marcia has persevered and gained a second career wind. Today’s generations will recognize her Emmy-winning voice-work as Bart’s teacher, “Mrs. Edna Krabappel”, on The Simpsons (1989), and she, more recently, had a supporting role as “Maggie the housekeeper” on the short-lived, irreverent spoof, That’s My Bush! (2001). Marcia has been a regular in commercials for over three decades. On film, she has often played an amusing, unwitting foil to kid-like shenanigans in such films as My Mom’s a Werewolf (1989), Teen Witch (1989) and Ghoulies Go to College (1990). She has guest-hosted televised comedy clubs and talk shows, and was the actual co-host of a diet show on cable. Marcia remains on the lecture circuit and has published her own memoir, “Don’t Look Back, We’re Not Going That Way!”, which gently and admirably laces her myriad of struggles with wit, humor and a positive outlook.
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