Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Carole Shelley Dead at 79

Carole Shelley, the Tony Award-winning actress who portrayed one of the Pigeon sisters in the stage, film and television versions of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, has died. She was 79. Shelley passed away following a battle with cancer at her home in Manhattan on August 31.

The actress also was known for originating the role of Crage Hall headmistress Madame Morrible in the Broadway sensation "Wicked" in 2003.

Shelley won her Tony in 1979 for playing Mrs. Kendal, the gracious real-life English actress who befriends John Merrick, in the best play winner "The Elephant Man."

"I've learned a lot in playing her," Shelley, who started out as a comic actress, said in a 1979 interview with The New York Times. "So much of what I've been working toward in the past few years — the effort to achieve stillness, spareness, clarity in my acting — seems to have come together in Mrs. Kendal. She's been quite an extraordinary influence in my life."

Shelley also was nominated for Tonys for her work in "Absurd Person Singular" (1975), "Stepping Out" (1987) and, for playing the bawdy Grandma, in 2009's best musical winner, "Billy Elliot."

The London native made her Broadway debut in 1965 in "The Odd Couple" as Gwendolyn Pigeon, who, with her sister, Cecily (Monica Evans), go on a double date in the apartment of their downstairs bachelor neighbors, Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) and Felix Ungar (Art Carney). Everyone starts out wanting to have a good time, but fussbudget Felix, despondent that his wife has left him, mucks it all up.

The ladies then reprised their roles for the 1968 movie adaptation at Paramount that starred Matthau and Jack Lemmon and then again for four 1970 episodes (all in the first season, including the pilot) of the ABC sitcom that featured Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as the mismatched roommates.

"We were Pigeons for quite some time," Shelley once said. "We got to look like each other after a while."

It is quite rare for any actor to play the same role on Broadway, in the movies and on television.

Shelley and Evans, now 78, also did voiceover work for the Disney animated films The Aristocats (1970) — they were prim and proper English geese — and Robin Hood (1973), in which Shelley was Lady Kluck, the lady-in-waiting to Evans' Maid Marion.

Born on August 16, 1939, Shelley wanted to be a ballet dancer but switched to acting after she broke a foot. Her mother was an opera singer and her father a composer.

She first appeared on the big screen in Edward Dmytryk's Give Us This Day (1949) and went on to roles in No, My Darling Daughter (1961), The Boston Strangler (1968), The Super (1991), Quiz Show (1994), The Road to Wellville (1994), Jungle 2 Jungle (1997) and Bewitched (2005).

She showed up on primetime television on The Avengers, The Cosby Show and Frasier.

On daytime soap operas, she played June Hagan on All My Children, Babs Bartlett in One Life to Live, and subbed for Beverlee McKinsey as Iris on Another World.

A full-time resident of the U.S. since 1969, Shelley was last seen on Broadway in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," which debuted at the Walter Kerr Theatre in 2013.

Survivors include several cousins and her godson, Mark, according to Kreinik.

Watch Shelley below as Iris on Another World in a video from March 1980.

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