Grace Keagy, Stage Actress of Woman of the Year and Carmelina, Dies at 87

By Robert Simonson
06 Oct 2009

Grace Keagy, a former housewife who made her Broadway debut in 1950s, appearing in a series of 1970s musicals, died of ovarian cancer in Rochester, New York on Oct. 4, at the age of 87.



Born Grace Stambaugh in Youngstown, OH, Ms. Keagy was trained as both a pianist and singer at the New England Conservatory. While still a student she sang in Leonard Bernstein's production of Copland's Second Hurricane. Her performing career was put on hold for two decades after marrying a career army officer and raising five children. After eventually settling in Minneapolis, she returned to the stage, graduating from dinner theatre to the Guthrie.

In 1973, at the age of 51, she moved to New York and immediately landed the Ethel Merman role in the Equity Library Showcase production of Call Me Madam. Ms. Keagy made her Broadway debut in 1975 in Goodtime Charley with Joel Grey. 1979 was her busiest year; she created roles in Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour and the short-lived Carmelina, for which she received a Drama Desk Award nomination, and replaced Delores Wilson in I Remember Mama.

She played Lauren Bacall's German maid Helga in Woman of the Year for its entire Broadway run, also working with Raquel Welch and Debbie Reynolds. It was her final Broadway role.

She also performed in musicals and plays with many major regional theaters, including Yale Repertory Theater, Arena Stage, Cincinnati Playhouse, Paper Mill Playhouse, Hartford Stage Company, Arizona Theater Company, and the Denver Center Theatre Company.

Ms. Keagy made her television debut in 1985 and appeared numerous times on "As the World Turns," "One Life to Live, "The Doctors," "Ryan’s Hope," and "Search for Tomorrow." She came out of retirement in Tucson, Arizona in 1996 at Jerry Herman's request to play a featured part in the Christmas television special "Mrs. Santa Claus" starring Angela Lansbury.

She was predeceased by her second husband Robert, and leaves behind two sons, a step-son, three daughters, 12 grandchildren, and 11 great grandchildren.