Beth Howland, who gave memorable performances as flighty featherbrains in the original production of Company and the television sitcom Alice, died on December 31, 2015, in Santa Monica, CA.
Her death was announced by her husband, the actor (and fellow Company castmate) Charles Kimbrough. Ms. Howland’s wishes specified news of her death be held off. She had also asked not to have a funeral or memorial service, according to The New York Times. She was 74. The cause was lung cancer.
During the 1960s, Ms. Howland forged a career through small parts in a series of musicals such as High Spirits and Darling of the Day. It all culminated in her memorable turn as Amy, a neurotic bride going through a musical nervous breakdown titled “Getting Married Today” on her wedding day.
The song, one of the classic patter songs in musical history, required Ms. Howland to rattle through hundreds of panicky words in rapid-fire time. A sample lyric:
A wedding, what's a wedding, it's a prehistoric ritual
Where everybody promises fidelity forever, which is
Maybe the most horrifying word I ever heard of, which is
Followed by a honeymoon, where suddenly he'll realize he's
Saddled with a nut, and wanna kill me, which he should...
The song was a tour de force and typically brought the house down.
Here is a clip from the 1970 documentary Original Cast Album: Company, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, in which Howland records the song.
In 1976, she joined the cast of the sitcom Alice, a vehicle for another stage veteran, Linda Lavin. Based on the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the show was about a young widow who pulls up stakes and moves to Arizona with her teenage son. Set in a greasy spoon where Alice is a waitress, the show featured Ms. Howland as one of the diner’s many colorful characters, Vera, a sweet-hearted, klutzy scatterbrain. She was nominated for four consecutive Golden Globes, from 1980 to 1983, for her work.
On occasion, she was allowed to use her theatrical chops on the show, including one episode where she tap danced.
The rest of her 1970s television work was less remarkable, consisting mostly of the usual array of guest appearances on other series. By the end of the 1980s, her performances had become rare. Her final television credit was in 2002.
Beth Howland was born May 28, 1941, in Boston MA. She moved to New York right after graduating from high school.
Her Broadway debut came as a replacement performer in the 1960 musical Once Upon a Mattress. She performed the same function in the hit Bye Bye Birdie. She originated her first Broadway part in Blithe Spirit-inspired by the Hugh Martin-Timothy Gray musical High Spirits in 1964. It ran for a year. Drat! The Cat! and Darling of the Day followed.
She left behind the stage following her success in Company, but returned to Broadway in 1993 for a special concert presentation of the musical. The evening featured many of the original cast of the 1970 show, including her future husband, Charles Kimbrough, whom she married in 2002. He survives her.
She was married to the actor Michael J. Pollard from 1961 to 1969. The couple had a child.