Kathleen Freeman

Active - 1947 - 2016  |   Born - Feb 17, 1919   |   Died - Aug 23, 2001   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The inimitable American actress Kathleen Freeman has been convulsing film audiences with portrayals of dowdy, sharp-tongued matrons since she was in her 20s. After stage work, Freeman began taking bit roles in major-studio features in 1948, seldom getting screen credit but always making a positive impression. The best of her earliest roles was in Singin' in the Rain (1952); Freeman played long-suffering vocal coach Phoebe Dinsmore, whose Herculean efforts to get dumb movie star Jean Hagen to grasp the proper enunciation of the phrase "I can't staaaand him" proved uproariously futile. Often cast as domestics, Freeman had a year's run in 1953 as the "spooked" maid on the ghostly TV sitcom Topper. Freeman was a particular favorite of comedian Jerry Lewis, who cast the actress in showy (and billed!) roles in such farces as The Errand Boy (1961), The Nutty Professor (1963) and Who's Got the Action?. As Nurse Higgins in Lewis' Disorderly Orderly (1964), Freeman weeps quietly as Jerry meekly scrapes oatmeal off her face and babbles "Oh, Nurse Higgins...you're all full of...stuff." Lewis so trusted Freeman's acting instincts that he sent her to the set of director William Wyler's The Collector (1965) in order to help build up the confidence of Wyler's nervous young leading lady Samantha Eggar. Throughout the '70s and '80s, Freeman took occasional "sabbaticals" from her movie and TV assignments to do stage work, enjoying a lengthy run in a Chicago production of Ira Levin's Deathtrap. Like many character actors of the '50s, Kathleen Freeman is frequently called upon to buoy the projects of baby-boomer directors: she was recently seen as an hysterical Julia Child clone in Joe Dante's Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990).

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