2019-03-01 19:32:41 UTC
Katherine Helmond, the Man-Crazy Mother on 'Whos the Boss?' Dies at 89
10:24 AM PST 3/1/2019 by Mike Barnes
She also starred in 'Soap' and played a cosmetic surgery-addicted mother
in 'Brazil,' one of three movies she did for Terry Gilliam.
Katherine Helmond, the seven-time Emmy-nominated Texas actress who played
the feisty, man-crazy mother Mona Robinson on the long-running ABC sitcom
Whos the Boss?, has died. She was 89.
Helmond, who earlier starred as the wide-eyed socialite sister Jessica
Tate on another popular ABC comedy, Susan Harris daytime-serial spoof
Soap, died Saturday of complications from Alzheimers disease at her home
in Los Angeles, her talent agency, APA, announced.
The shapely, blue-eyed Helmond also portrayed Doris Sherman, the widowed
owner of the fictional NFL team the Orlando Breakers, on ABCs Coach, and
she was Lois Whelan, the upper-class mother of Patricia Heatons
character, on CBS Everybody Loves Raymond.
On the big screen, Helmond appeared in three Terry Gilliam movies as the
seafaring cannibal Mrs. Ogre in Time Bandits (1981), as Jonathan Pryces
rich, cosmetic surgery-addicted mother in Brazil (1985) and as a hotel
clerk in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). And she provided the voice
of Lizzie, a 1923 Ford Model T, in the three Cars movies.
More recently, she appeared on True Blood.
Helmond received Emmy noms for lead actress in a comedy for playing
Jessica in every season of Soap, which aired from 1977-81. She was
nominated again for Whos the Boss? in 1988 and 1989 and for Everybody
Loves Raymond in 2002. And she won two Golden Globes, one for each show.
The 5-foot-2-inch Helmond also showed off her glorious cheekbones when she
earned a Tony nom in 1973 for best featured actress in a play for her work
in Eugene ONeills The Great God Brown. She often said that the theater
was her first love.
After Helmond toiled for years in small, dramatic parts on television, her
agent thought it was time that the actress did some comedy.
"I was married to drunks, I got knocked around and battered and beaten and
taken advantage of, she said of her first TV roles in a 2008 interview
with the Archive of American Television. Thats one of the reasons I got
switched to comedic roles. My agent said, I just cant bear to see you
knocked around on television any more. Were going to try for a
When she auditioned for Soap, Helmond said that Harris sat very seriously,
never laughing, but by the time the actress had arrived home from their
first meeting, she learned that she had gotten the part.
Soap, as described in the opening, was the story of two sisters Jessica
Tate and Mary Campbell. The wealthy Jessica had a philandering husband
(Robert Mandan) and a sarcastic servant named Benson (Robert Guillaume);
Marys (Cathryn Damon) family, meanwhile, was blue-collar.
Helmond said that Jessica floated through life; it was like music playing
all the time. [Harris] said that I had captured that, that I was very
loving and wide-eyed about life, more child-like than stupid.
On Whos the Boss?, which aired for eight seasons from 1984-92, Helmonds
sexually active Mona dated all manner of men. She played the mother of a
divorced advertising executive Angela (Judith Light), who employs a
retired St. Louis Cardinals second baseman (Tony Danza) as a live-in
housekeeper in Fairfield, Connecticut. His daughter (Alyssa Milano) and
Angela's son (Danny Pintauro) also live there.
Mona was a widow who moved on from her husband's death by "throwing
caution to the wind, doing whatever comes up, thinking my own thoughts,
being a little more risque," Helmond said. She heard from viewers who
benefited from that characterization, she noted.
"If life dealt you some unfortunate blow, you would still be able to go
out into the world, find new friends, find new jobs, find a new way of
living if you knew who you were," she said. "I felt like I was giving a
free lesson to a lot of people who are in that position I got wonderful
letters from people."
Helmond noted that ABC filmed a pilot for a Mona spinoff, but it was not
Milano paid tribute to Helmond on Friday, captioning a series photos of
her co-star with the words, "My beautiful, kind, funny, gracious,
compassionate, rock. You were an instrumental part of my life. You taught
me to hold my head above the marsh! You taught me to do anything for a
laugh! What an example you were! Rest In Peace, Katherine."
An only child, Katherine Marie Helmond was born on Galveston Island in
Texas on July 5, 1929. Her father was a fireman and her mother a
housewife, and she was the oldest of three daughters.
After attending Ball High School, she pursued acting in Houston and
Dallas, then moved to New York with a handful of friends. When they had
trouble finding work, they bought a theater in upstate New York and put on
plays there. She said she did 10 years of summer stock.
She spent seven years with the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut and
the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, Rhode Island. After winning
the Drama Critics Award for her off-Broadway performance in John Guare's
Pulitzer Prize-winning play The House of Blue Leaves, Helmond followed the
production to Los Angeles and quickly landed a guest-starring spot on
Gunsmoke in 1972.
Helmond had a role in Arthur Hillers The Hospital (1971), and in Alfred
Hitchcocks Family Plot (1976), her character kicks over a headstone in a
Gilliam originally cast Ruth Gordon for Time Bandits, but she broke her
leg on a Clint Eastwood movie, so Helmond got the part. For Brazil, the
filmmaker phoned her and said, "I have a part for you, but you're not
going to look very good in it," she recalled.
Helmond said that she had a rubber mask glued to her face at 5 a.m. each
day during production and wore it for 10 hours at a time. She developed
blisters that needed medical attention, yet even during that time, she
found "great joy in acting."
"I felt I blossomed as a person when I got a chance to act," she said.
"Through all the many years now, Ive never fallen out of love. Its been
like an incredible marriage that really worked. I enjoyed every minute of
Survivors include her husband of 57 years, David Christian. She met him at
The Hampton Playhouse Summer Stock Theater, where he was the set designer
and she the leading lady.
"She was the love of my life," Christian said. "We spent 57 beautiful,
wonderful, loving years together, which I will treasure forever. I've been
with Katherine since I was 19 years old. The night she died, I saw that
the moon was exactly half-full, just as I am now half of what Ive been
my entire adult life."
A memorial for family and friends is being planned.
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