She has played everything from chatterbox wives to wicked stepsisters on TV, and from Gertrude Stein to Shakespeare’s Falstaff on stage. At age 80 plus, the plucky comedienne shows no signs of stopping any time soon. The riotous Pat Carroll was born in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1927, the daughter of Kathryn Angela Meagher and Maurice Clifton Carroll. Her family moved to Los Angeles when Pat was five, and there began performing in local stage productions. She graduated from Hollywood’s Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girls Catholic school, then attended Immaculate College, also in Los Angeles, and Catholic University of America.
Following her college graduation, she began performing comedy in nightclubs and gained early experience with appearances in resort areas. Her stage debut in 1947 with a role in “The Goose and the Gander” starring Gloria Swanson led to hundreds of stock roles. She made her off-Broadway debut in the play “Come What May” in 1950. Also a talented singer, she earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway work in the singing revue “Catch a Star” in 1955, and then enjoyed a number of brash showcases in such musicals as “On the Town,” “Once Upon a Mattress” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.
It was, however, the “golden age” of TV that truly took advantage of Pat’s adroit talents. An initial “second banana” regular on the variety programs The Red Buttons Show (1953) and The Saturday Night Revue (1953), she copped an Emmy award for her work on Caesar’s Hour (1954) as Howard Morris’ wife and earned fine reviews from her recurring role on the sitcom The Danny Thomas Show (1953) playing Bunny Halper, the pert and plucky wife of Danny Thomas’ nightclub manager Charlie Halper (Sid Melton).
Pat’s down-to-earth demeanor, chummy disposition and hearty, infectious laugh made her a popular guest on all the major talkfests and a welcomed panelist on such game shows as “You Don’t Say,” “To Tell the Truth,” “I’ve Got a Secret” and “Password”. In 1965, she co-starred on TV as one of the wicked stepsisters in the endearing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella (1965), which starred Lesley Ann Warren as the princess-to-be. In later years she won recurring/regular roles on the last season of Too Close for Comfort (1980) [retitled in 1986 as “The Ted Knight Show”] and the Suzanne Somers’ sitcom She’s the Sheriff (1987).
As a character actress, the cropped-blond comedienne never made much of a dent in film, which included supporting roles in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) with Doris Day and The Brothers O’Toole (1973) with John Astin. In the late 1970s her career received a huge shot in the arm with the award-winning, one-woman show “Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein”, which she also produced and won multiple theater awards, including the Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk trophies. A complete departure from her usual comedy antics, audiences saw a burgeoning dramatic actress in the making. Taking the show on the road for four years, she also won a Grammy for her recorded version of the performance in 1981. She then returned to Broadway after thirty years to appear in the play “Dancing in the End Zone” (1985).
Pat surprised her fans by continuing vigorously in this vein. She began taking on Shakespearean roles and earning critical acclaim. For her interpretations of Sir John Falstaff in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and the Nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” she won bookend Helen Hayes awards. A life member of The Actors Studio, other challenging stage roles over the years have included Volpone, Mother Courage (another Helen Hayes award), the Stage Manager in “Our Town” and the Chorus in a Broadway revival of “Electra”. Still interested in tickling the funny bone on occasion, she has performed in a number of adaptations of the wacky musical comedy “Nunsense” playing the Reverend Mother. If this weren’t enough, she has extended herself into directing, helming a musical version of “Alice in Wonderland” for The Kennedy Center, as well as productions of “Private Lives and “The Supporting Cast”.
Since the late 1980s Pat has become a voice-over favorite on numerous animated programs — notably for Disney as the sea witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid (1989). She has three children (oldest son Sean and daughters Kerry and Tara) by late husband Lee Karsian, a one-time manager and talent agent. Tara Karsian is a character actress from stage, film and TV. Kerry Karsian’ is a casting director.
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