Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mistress of Mean: Cathy Lewis of "Hazel"

Cathy Lewis as Hazel's best nemesis.
As many actors and actresses learned over Shirley Booth's long career, it wasn't easy to hold your own in scenes with the star of Broadway, film, and the hit TV comedy Hazel (1961-66). One clearly up to the task was Cathy Lewis (1916-1968), the recurring guest player who created the memorably haughty character of Deirdre Thompson, George Baxter's sister. Deirdre was not a very likable lady; she looked down her nose at Hazel for being a domestic, coldly snubbed any attempt at familiarity, and told her sister-in-law Dorothy, "Why you and George persist in keeping that woman, I'll never understand!"
Cathy (left) and Marie Wilson in My Friend Irma.

Before coming to Hazel, Cathy Lewis was one of radio's most highly respected and versatile actresses. As she told an interviewer in 1952, "It isn't an easy medium, either. It takes less time, perhaps, than television, but don't let anyone fool you that you just read words off a page of script. Projecting a strong characterization into [a] microphone with the voice alone is hard work all the way." Her biggest claim to fame was the role of Jane Stacy on My Friend Irma, the level-headed, somewhat sardonic pal of the harebrained lead character played by Marie Wilson. That job helped her transition into television in the 1950s, where her other roles included the female lead in an unsuccessful video adaptation of radio's Fibber McGee and Molly.

Sadly, Cathy's life was cut short not long after Hazel came to an end, when she died of cancer in 1968, only 51 years old. Like Shirley Booth, she was quite a trouper. Mean as Deirdre was to poor Hazel, it's a safe bet Miss Booth knew full well what a valuable contribution this fine actress made to her classic television series. You can read more about Hazel and its cast in my book Shirley Booth: A Biography and Career Record.

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