Nancy Walker (May 10, 1922 – March 25, 1992) made a guest appearance on Happy Days as Nancy Blansky, Howard Cunningham's cousin, who arrives in Milwaukee to surprise he and Marion when Richie and Joanie throw a surprise wedding anniversary party for them in the Season 4 episode "The Third Anniversary Show" (episode #17). Nancy would reprise the role in the short-lived Happy Days spinoff series, Blansky's Beauties, a week after "The Third Anniversary Show" episode, which aired on February 4, 1977 on ABC-TV; Blansky's Beauties premiered 8 days later, on February 12, 1977.
Life and careerEdit
A veteran actress and comedienne of stage, screen, and television, Nancy was also a film and television director (most notably of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, on which she made several guest appearances). During her five-decades long career, she may be best remembered for her long-running role of Ida Morgenstern, who first appeared on several episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later became a prominent recurring character on the spinoff series Rhoda.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show and RhodaEdit
Nancy made her first appearance playing Ida Morgenstern, the mother of Valerie Harper's character Rhoda Morgenstern, perhaps her best recognized acting role, on the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The role proved to be ideal for her. The episode which introduced her character, "Support Your Local Mother", was so well-received that it won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in a Comedy Series for James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. Walker thereafter became an annual guest star on the show for the next three years. In 1974, when the MTM spinoff series, Rhoda premiered, Walker joined the cast.
From 1971-76, she was a regular on the successful Rock Hudson detective series McMillan & Wife, playing the McMillans' housekeeper, Mildred. During the first two years of Rhoda, Walker was not featured every week, so she was able to shuttle back and forth between the CBS sitcom and the NBC detective series. These two roles brought her seven Emmy Award nominations.
In 1976, ABC-TV offered Walker a contract to headline her own series, The Nancy Walker Show, which was produced by Norman Lear's production company, in which she starred as Nancy Kittredge, a talent agent. Walker appeared on a second-season episode of The Muppet Show. Before she filmed the first episode of the series, Walker made her only appearance on Rhoda for the 1976-77 season. In the season premiere, "The Separation", Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and her husband Joe (David Groh) decide to separate. Rhoda tries to keep the news from her mother Ida (Walker) since Ida is about to embark on a year-long trip across America with Rhoda's father (Harold Gould). Ida learns the truth from Rhoda prior to Ida's departure.
For her performance in this episode, Walker was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance By A Supporting Actress In A Comedy or Drama Series. The Nancy Walker Show premiered on ABC-TV in late September 1976. It received poor reviews and low ratings and was cancelled in December 1976.
Almost immediately, Garry Marshall signed Nancy for another series, Blansky's Beauties. The main character of the series was introduced a week before the series premiere in an episode of the hit sitcom, Happy Days. The show premiered on ABC-TV in February 1977 with Walker playing Nancy Blansky, den mother to a group of Las Vegas showgirls. It also failed to find an audience and was cancelled in May 1977, giving Walker the unenviable distinction of being in two failed series in the same year. She returned to Rhoda at the beginning of the 1977–78 season (giving the show a much needed boost in the ratings, which had fallen the previous year), and remained with the series for the rest of its run. During this time, Walker began directing, including episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, 13 Queens Boulevard, and Alice.
In 1980, Nancy made her feature film directorial debut, directing disco group The Village People and Olympian Bruce Jenner in the pseudo-autobiographical musical Can't Stop the Music. The film was a box office failure, but later became something of a camp/cult favorite. It was Walker's sole feature film directorial credit, although she had stage and television directing credits.
Married twice, Nancy Walker and her second husband, musical theater teacher David Craig, had a daughter, Miranda. David Craig died in 1998, aged 75, also from lung cancer. Miranda Craig was an advertising copywriter; she died in 2000, aged 47, from undisclosed causes.
Nancy died from lung cancer in Studio City, California on March 25, 1992, aged 69. Until shortly before her death, she had continued to work on True Colors, but had only appeared in half of the second season's episodes due to her declining health. Her ashes were scattered in the Virgin Islands. She was survived by her husband and daughter.
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