Kathleen Freeman

Kathleen Freeman (February 17, 1919  August 23, 2001) was an American film, television, voice actress, and stage actress. In a career that spanned more than 50 years, she portrayed acerbic maids, secretaries, teachers, busybodies, nurses, and battle-axe neighbors and relatives, almost invariably to comic effect.[2]

Kathleen Freeman
Freeman, late 1960s
Born(1919-02-17)February 17, 1919
DiedAugust 23, 2001(2001-08-23) (aged 82)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
OccupationActress, voice artist
Years active1948–2001
Partner(s)Helen Ramsey (19??–2001)[1]

Early life

Freeman was born in Chicago.[3] She began her career as a child, dancing in her parents' vaudeville act.[4] After a stint studying music at University of California, Los Angeles, she went into acting full-time, working on the stage, and finally entering films in 1948. In 1946, she was a founding member of the Circle Players at The Circle Theatre, now known as El Centro Theatre. Freeman was a Democrat who supported Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 presidential election.[5]



Freeman made her film debut in Wild Harvest (1947).[6] Freeman's most notable early role was an uncredited part in the 1952 musical Singin' in the Rain as Jean Hagen's diction coach Phoebe Dinsmore.[7]

Beginning with the 1954 film 3 Ring Circus, Freeman became a favorite foil of Jerry Lewis, playing opposite him in 11 films.[8] These included most of Lewis's better known comedies, including The Disorderly Orderly as Nurse Higgins, The Errand Boy as the studio boss's wife, and especially The Nutty Professor as Millie Lemon. Over 30 years later, she made a brief appearance in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps.[9]

Other film roles included appearances in The Missouri Traveler (1958), the horror film The Fly (1958), the Western spoofs Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), and appearances in a spate of comedies in the 1980s and 1990s. Freeman played Sister Mary Stigmata (referred to as The Penguin) in John Landis' The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, had cameos in Joe Dante's Innerspace and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (as tipsy cooking host Microwave Marge), and a gangster mother in Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult.[9]


In addition to teaching acting classes in Los Angeles, Freeman was a familiar presence on television. In 1958–59, she appeared three times on Buckskin, a children's program set in a hotel in a fictitious Montana town. She appeared from the 1950s until her death in regular or recurring roles on many sitcoms, including six episodes of The Bob Cummings Show (as Bertha Krause), Topper (as Katie the maid), and The Donna Reed Show (as Mrs. Celia Wilgus, the Stones' busybody next door neighbor). In 1964 she appeared in 5 episodes of The Lucy Show.[9] Later, she was cast on Hogan's Heroes as Frau Gertrude Linkmeyer, General Burkhalter's sister, who longed to wed Colonel Klink. In 1973, she had a co-starring role with Dom DeLuise in the sitcom Lotsa Luck (based on the British sitcom On the Buses).

She appeared in several episodes of Wagon Train, Funny Face (as Mrs. Kate Harwell), I Dream of Jeannie (as a grouchy supervisor in a fantasy preview of Major Nelson's future, and later as a hillbilly), the short-lived prehistoric sitcom It's About Time (as Mrs. Boss), and as the voice of Peg Bundy's mom, an unseen character on Married... with Children.[9] She played a female arm wrestler on Mama's Family.

Freeman played Sgt Carter’s mother in a 1969 episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., as well as appearing as a different character in a 1968 episode of the same series. She also starred with Phil Silvers in The Beverly Hillbillies in episodes 25 and 26 of season 8 and episodes 2 and 3 in season 9. She also made a first season appearance playing the wife of a couple who take the Clampetts to court, falsely accusing them of reckless driving and causing injuries to the couple (Season 1, Episode 32).

She remained active in her last two years with a regular voice role on As Told by Ginger, a voice bit in the animated feature film Shrek, a guest appearance on the sitcom Becker and scoring a Tony Award nomination and a Theatre World Award for her role as Jeannette Burmeister in the musical version of The Full Monty.[10] In her final episode of As Told by Ginger, Season 2's "No Hope for Courtney", Freeman's character retires from her teaching job although Carl and Hoodsey try convincing her to return to work. The script originally was written to have Mrs. Gordon return to Lucky Elementary School but Freeman died before the episode was finished. The script was then re-written, and Mrs. Gordon died as well. The episode was dedicated in Freeman's memory. The dedication came at the end of the episode after the announcement that Elaine Gordon had died and Carl was crying. The screen faded to black and a title card said "In Memory of Kathleen Freeman".


Weakened by illness, Freeman was forced to leave the Full Monty cast. Five days later, she died of lung cancer at age 82 at Lenox Hill Hospital. She was cremated and her ashes interred in a niche at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[11] She never married and she had no children. British reports of her death mentioned her long-time companion Helen Ramsey, but U.S. obituaries did not.[7]



Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Naked City Stout Girl on Elevated Train Uncredited
1948 Casbah American Woman Uncredited
1948 Behind Locked Doors Nurse Uncredited
1980 The Blues Brothers Sister Mary Stigmata, a.k.a. The Penguin
1992 FernGully: The Last Rainforest Elder #1
1996 Carpool Franklin's Mom (voice)
1997 Hercules Heavyset Woman (voice)
1998 Blues Brothers 2000 Mother Mary Stigmata
2000 Ready to Rumble Jane King
2000 Nutty Professor II: The Klumps Denise's Nosy Neighbor Uncredited
2001 Joe Dirt Joe Dirt's Foster Mother Uncredited
2001 Shrek Old Woman (voice)


  1. "Kathleen Freeman". Nndb.com. Retrieved 2016-12-22.
  2. McKinley, Jesse (August 24, 2001). "Kathleen Freeman, 78, Actress Playing Comic Character Roles". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  3. Vallance, Tom (March 5, 2014). "Kathleen Freeman". The Independent. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  4. "Actress Kathleen Freeman Dies at 82". Backstage. Associated Press. August 24, 2001. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  5. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 33, Ideal Publishers
  6. "Freeman, Kathleen (1919–2001)." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages. Ed. Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer. Vol. 1. Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2007, p. 692. March 18, 2014, ISBN 978-0787675851
  7. Bergan, Ronald (August 27, 2001). "Kathleen Freeman". The Guardian. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  8. Clark, Mike (August 30, 2002). "Jerry Lewis tells it like it is — and was". USA Today. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  9. Kathleen Freeman on IMDb
  10. Kathleen Freeman at the Internet Broadway Database
  11. Bahn, Paul (14 April 2014). The Archaeology of Hollywood: Traces of the Golden Age. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 116. ISBN 978-0759123793.
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