An apple dumpling of a darling, character actress Nedra Volz had one of those slightly vacant, twinkly-eyed faces absolutely designed for light sitcoms and commercial work. Although she didn’t come into her own until past retirement age, she enjoyed a solid two-decade ride delightfully amusing audiences all over.
The diminutive Iowa native was born in a trunk to vaudeville parents in 1908 and was immediately thrust onto the stage as “Baby Nedra” in tent shows and similar venues. A band singer and radio performer in her early adult years, maternal instincts took over after marrying her husband in 1944 and she raised two children. But the spark never completely died. In the 1950s she was performing again in community theater shows.
As others of her ilk have done, she took a “what the heck” attitude and went for the professional gigs again in the early 1970s, making her film debut at age 65 with Your Three Minutes Are Up (1973) starring Beau Bridges and Ron Leibman. Light comedy would become her forte and she geared herself up, bouncing back and forth between the large and small screen. Irresistible as a feisty oldster, dotty neighbor or pot shot-taking granny who wasn’t above giving a karate chop to a bad guy out of nowhere, producer Norman Lear gave her TV career a booster shot with a couple of his late 1970s series.
She peaked with the popular Gary Coleman sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (1978). Stepping in as the resident Drummond family housekeeper following the departure of hired help Charlotte Rae, who spun off into her own series, Nedra stayed on the show two seasons and then was herself replaced by Mary Jo Catlett. During the run of the sitcom she was actually doing triple duty as a recurring postmistress on The Dukes of Hazzard (1979) from 1981-1983 and as Mother B on Filthy Rich (1982). She subsequently served alongside Lee Majors’ stunt-man detective character on The Fall Guy (1981) for a season starting in 1985.
A popular guest presence on such established sitcoms as “Alice,” “Maude,” “One Day at a Time,” “Night Court,” “Coach,” “The Commish,” “Who’s the Boss?” and “Step By Step,” she could be seen as an elderly wisenhammer at the movies as well in the bawdy, raucous comedies Moving Violations (1985), Lust in the Dust (1984), Earth Girls Are Easy (1988), and Mortuary Academy (1988), among others. She ended her career most fittingly at age 88 in the The Great White Hype (1996) briefly providing on of her token prune-faced old lady bits. The endearing Nedra passed away of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in 2003 at the ripe old age of 94.
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