'Rhoda's' mom, Nancy Walker, dies of lung cancer at 69

March 26, 1992|By Edward J. Boyer | Edward J. Boyer,Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD -- Raspy voiced comedian Nancy Walker -- who appeared in several television series but was perhaps best known as Rosie the waitress who hawked the "quicker-picker-upper" paper towels in commercials -- died Wednesday of lung cancer at her home.

Miss Walker, 69, had battled the disease for the last two years, said Frank Liberman, a family friend.

Standing barely five feet tall and weighing just over 100 pounds, the wisecracking Miss Walker was the memorable Mrs. Morgenstern, Rhoda's mother, on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its spinoff, "Rhoda."

She was also Rock Hudson's irreverent housekeeper on the CBS series "MacMillan and Wife," and later starred in her own short-lived series, "The Nancy Walker Show," and "Blansky's Beauties."

Her last television role was on the Fox network comedy "True Colors," playing a Jewish mother who has a black son-in-law. She appeared in 21 of the show's 22 episodes, but was too ill to work in the final segment, Mr. Liberman said.

Born Anna Myrtle Swoyer May 10, 1922, in Philadelphia, Miss Walker was able to keep an audience laughing with a mere shrug of her shoulders or the raising of an eyebrow. Her mother, Myrtle Lawler, was a dancer. Her father, Dewey Swoyer, was a vaudeville comedian.

She made her Broadway debut at 19 in 1941 in "Best Foot Forward," persuading producer George Abbott to create a part for her. Mr. Abbott was at an audition waiting to hear an established singer when she was mistakenly introduced as "Miss Walker."

She belted out "Bounce Me Brother with a Solid Four," and Abbott decided that even though there was no part for her in the production, he would include one. She was given the role of Blind Date, a determined co-ed, and the show was changed to include 12 lines and two songs to show off her comic ability. She also officially became Nancy Walker.

Miss Walker launched her television career after moving to Los Angeles in 1970, and was nominated for Emmy awards three times for her work on "MacMillan and Wife" and once as Mrs. Morgenstern on "Rhoda."

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