Kathleen Freeman, 82, the crusty and lovable character actress who was Tony Award-nominated for The Full Monty and appeared in the Broadway show as late as last week, died Aug. 23 at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, a spokesman for the show said.
Ms. Freeman had battled lung cancer. The showbiz vet and co star with Jerry Lewis in 10 of his pictures, played the biz-weary lady musical director named Jeanette Burmeister to the amateur strippers in the hit Broadway musical, The Full Monty.
Her last appearance in the show at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in The Full Monty was Aug. 18. The role of Jeanette is not in the film on which the musical is based. Kaye Ballard plays the part on the road. In the show, Jeanette promotes and encourages the men and sings the memorable, "Jeanette's Showbiz Number."
The whiskey-voiced, big-smile actress, a Chicago native, directed, composed and performed for The Circle and Players Ring Theatre in Los Angeles and appeared in more than 100 films and hundreds of TV shows. She was the memorable diction teacher, Phoebe Dinsmore, in the film, "Singin' in the Rain." Other movie appearances include "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps," "Blues Brothers 2000," "The Blues Brothers," "Shrek" (the voice of Old Woman). She was series regular Flo Shafer on "The Beverly Hillbillies."
On national tour, Ms. Freeman appeared in Deathtrap, Annie (as Miss Hannigan) and Woman of the Year with Lauren Bacall. As a senior, Ms. Freeman won a Theatre World Award this year for making her Broadway debut. "My heart is very deeply full for your generosity and your inclusion for this," she said when accepting the award, which usually goes out to younger performers.
"Every year I'm doing something," she told Playbill reporter Harry Haun. "I've been in the theatre forever." Haun reported that Ms. Freeman was almost three when she first hit the boards with her vaudeville-performer parents. Vaudeville was petering out and giving way to movies, radio and other forms, but the family "kept right on going, which was typical, and finally made our strange way to Los Angeles," she said.
Her mother hoped she would be a serious musician. She studied music, but got the acting bug at UCLA. "A terrible thing happened," she said. "I came on stage and opened my mouth and got a laugh, and the whole thing was over."
Acting was her future.
Ms. Freeman is survived by many friends including longtime and best friend Helen Ramsey. Memorial services are being planned in Los Angeles and New York.