Georgia Engel, whose signature warm cadence could be heard on stage and screen since the late 1960s, died April 12 at the age of 70. Her death was confirmed to the The New York Times by friend and executor John Quilty.
Though perhaps best known for her work on such sitcoms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond (earning a total of five Emmy nominations between the two), Ms. Engel began her career on Broadway, as a replacement in the original production of Hello, Dolly!. At the age of 21, she played millinery shop assistant Minnie Fay, sharing the stage with both Phyllis Diller and Ethel Merman in the title role.
After Hello, Dolly! closed, Ms. Engel appeared in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves Off-Broadway, and through a series of specific circumstances, found her way on the small screen as The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Georgette Franklin Baxter. As Ms. Engel recalls, a fire at the Truck and Warehouse Theater had caused the production to move—full cast in tact—from Off-Broadway to Los Angeles. While attending a ballet class in Hollywood, she met Moore, who said she had seen her in the play and loved it. “Six months later,” Ms. Engel told Playbill in 2006, “I was collecting unemployment in New York and got asked to do a three-day role [on The Mary Tyler Moore Show].”
Though she had initially only filmed a small debut role over the course of three days, Moore invited Ms. Engel into the “MTM Family” shortly thereafter—“before anybody had negotiated—not that I was hard to get,” Ms. Engel later said.
After a handful of additional TV stints, including The Betty White Show, Goodtime Girls, and Jennifer Slept Here, Ms. Engel returned to Broadway, again as a replacement, in My One and Only. She would appear on the Great White Way twice more—in the revival of The Boys From Syracuse in 2002, and then as Mrs. Tottendale in 2006’s The Drowsy Chaperone.
She continued to grace the stage into her 60s, earning a Drama Desk Award nomination for Annie Baker’s John, playing the eccentric countess in the world premiere of the Roman Holiday musical, and, most recently, starring as a kindergarten teacher with a gangsta rap alter ego in Half Time at Paper Mill Playhouse.
Ms. Engel had a penchant for comedy, finding the heart and humor in her roles and cherishing them in others. “I love things where I can laugh and cry both,” she told Playbill while appearing in The Drowsy Chaperone. “I think everybody loves that—where there’s poignancy as well as tremendous laughter.
“I just so love good comedy that I love just being in the presence of someone who is a master at it.”
Ms. Engel was born July 28, 1948, in Washington. She is survived by sisters Robin Engel and Penny Lusk.