Mary Stuart 76, a veteran actress and pioneer of soap...

Deaths Elsewhere

March 04, 2002

Mary Stuart 76, a veteran actress and pioneer of soap operas who spent 35 years as the star of one daytime series built around her, died Thursday at her home in New York, after a stroke. She also had been ill with cancer, her family said.

Legions of fans lived with and felt they knew her two most famous characters, Joanne Gardner Barron Tate Vincente Tourneur on Search for Tomorrow, and Meta Bauer on The Guiding Light.

Stuart, whose original name was Mary Houchins, was born in Miami and grew up in Tulsa, Okla. At 17, she hitchhiked to New York, working at various jobs to support herself - including as a hat-check and cigarette girl at the Roosevelt Hotel, where she met film producer Joe Pasternak, who offered her a screen test.

Her nerves got the better of her at the audition, said her third husband, architect Wolfgang Neumann, and Pasternak reportedly told her: "You can't sing, you can't walk, but there is something that you have. Let's find out what it is."

She spent the next few years working in movies in Hollywood, mostly in small parts, but sometimes with an icon of 1940s cinema. She appeared in more than 20 films, including The Girl From Jones Beach with Ronald Reagan, The Adventures of Don Juan with Errol Flynn and This Time for Keeps with Esther Williams.

After returning to New York, she won a role in a new CBS soap opera Search for Tomorrow, in 1951, and played the long-suffering Joanne until 1986, when the show, which had moved to NBC, went off the air. Her character endured many hardships and husbands, and she broke new ground along the way - as the first daytime actress to have her pregnancy written into the plot. The producers even filmed Stuart at the hospital after she gave birth to her son in 1956.

Her son's career on the show was short-lived, however. Within a few days his character was killed off in an accident, much to the horror of viewers.

Spike Milligan, 83, the last of the 1950s Goon Show radio stars who kept Britain laughing even as he struggled with persistent manic depression, died of liver failure Wednesday at his home in East Sussex, England.

"He had a very strong sense of the absurdity of the world. And sometimes it produced wonderful comedy and marvelous invention and great insight," said Monty Python star Michael Palin.

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