Wednesday, January 23, 2013

RIP Merry Anders

RIP Merry Anders

Merry A. Benedict died on October 28, 2012 in Encino, California. Most of us know her as television actress Merry Anders. She was 80.

Born Mary Anderson in Chicago on May 22, 1934, she wanted to be an actress from early childhood. By the late 1940s, she and her mother Helen had made their way to California, where Mary soon began taking acting and modeling lessons. While attending John Burroughs Junior High School in Los Angeles, she caught the eye of Rita LeRoy, owner of a small junior modeling agency, who convinced Helen to sign up her photogenic daughter for modeling lessons. She quickly became a top junior model, and replaced LeRoy's current top model, Tippi Hedren, who left for New York to do television modeling. The secretary of famed 20th Century-Fox talent scout Ivan Kahn spotted her in a Ben Bard production of Little Women and was impressed enough to invite her to meet Kahn, who, in turn, signed her to a seven-year contract.

Although Anders was under contract to 20th Century-Fox, her film career did not exactly flourish at the studio. During this time, she took several small roles in Fox films, but Fox dropped her contract in 1954. She had more luck on television, where she was featured in two television series: ‘The Stu Erwin Show’ (1954-1955) and ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (1957-1959). Interestingly, Anders had a small role in the film version of How to Marry a Millionaire while under contract at Fox. In 1955, Anders married casting director/producer John G. Stephens; the marriage lasted just a few months, but in the middle of the divorce, Anders learned that she was pregnant. Her daughter Tina Beth Paige Anders was born in 1956.

Without a studio contract, Anders began freelancing at other studios. She used this newfound freedom to her advantage, chalking up an amazing eight film releases in 1957 alone. Also, she began making numerous guest appearances on popular TV programs, including Cheyenne, Bronco, Perry Mason, and The Addams Family.

She was signed by Jack Webb to be a semi-regular on the hit show "Dragnet," where Webb insists on her changing from her usual platinum blonde to a less coiffured brunette. Webb starts showing up with her at the many civic engagements she routinely volunteers for in her Mission Hills neighborhood, much to the delight of surprised fans.

In 1968 her phone suddenly stopped ringing with offers as the television industry goes through a cultural change in the late Sixties. Desperate for work, she takes the job of a "glorified extra" in the movie Airport, while her name does not appear in the credits. She then took a job as a receptionist at Litton Industries, who allows her to take time off if she gets an acting assignment.

She does her last work in front of a camera with a guest shot on a two-part episode of "Gunsmoke." Co-starring with her is newcomer Ellen Burstyn and old friend Jeremy Slate. She also makes her swan song movie appearance in Legacy of Blood, a film that is filled with other fine Fifties performers who have fallen into neglect by the early Seventies.

In 1986 after remaining single for thirty-one years following her divorce from her first husband, producer John Stephens, she marries a Litton engineer named Richard Benedict. Ironically, she is introduced to Benedict by her former husband.

She retired from her job as a receptionist at Litton Industries in 1994. In her spare time she enjoyed doing calligraphy and making pin money on the side by doing small announcements and cards for people. Although she's become a very private person after her acting career, she's recognized from time to time, even being chastised by a total stranger once for being so mean as "Auntie Alice" on the short-lived daytime soap "Never Too Young."

As Merry A. Benedict, she resided in Encino, California until her death.

ANDERS, Merry (Mary Helen Anderson)Born: 5/22/1934, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.
Died: 10/28/2012, Encino, California, U.S.A.

Merry Anders westerns – actress:Broken Arrow (TV) – 1957 (Amy Breece)
The Dalton Girls - 1957 (Holly Dalton)
Cheyenne (TV) – 1957, 1960 (Sherry Raven, Ruth Graham/Fay Pierce)
Sugarfoot (TV) – 1957, 1959 (Katie Brannigan, Sally Ormand)
Tales of Wells Fargo (TV) – 1959 (Laurie Hammer)
Bonanza (TV) – 1960 (Virginia Keith)
Five Bold Women – 1960 (Missouri Lady Ellen Downs)
Young Jesse James – 1960 (Belle Starr)
Bronco (TV) – 1960 (Fanny Owen, Lucy Fallett)
Maverick (TV) – 1960, 1961 (Penelope Greeley, Maggie Bradford, Marybelle McCall, Cissie)
The Gambler Wore a Gun – 1961 (Sharon Donovan)
Death Valley Days – 1962 (Abby Jefferson, Lorna Erickson)
The Quick Gun – 1964 (Helen Reed)
The Virginian (TV) – 1964 (Donna Durrell
Young Fury – 1965 (Alice)
Gunsmoke (TV) – 1971 (Shirley)

3 comments:

  1. What a nice idea for a blog.....I only recall seeing Merry on Dragnet as Dorothy miller...this entry makes want to check out her other work...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had the privledge of knowing Merry for a number of years while she was with Litton. Always a smile and a kind word. Seeing her always brightened my day. I am so sorry to hear of her passing.She was a rare gem, and I will miss her.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I only now learned of this and it greatly saddens me. I was in love with Merry Anders when I was a 9-year-old kid in Van Nuys and hooked on her TV series "How to Marry a Millionaire" (her character "Mike" - Michelle? - was loosely parallel to Lauren Bacall's "Schatze" in the 1953 movie).

    When our next door neighbors moved to Granada Hills I was overwhelmed, to say the least, when my mom told me that their new next-door neighbor was non other than my beloved Mike! I couldn't believe it - right next to our friends and only nine miles away! And one day when we visited, there she was watering her lawn. Stars literally in my eyes, I couldn't react in any way but with a goony smile when she cheerfully waved at me as if we'd already met.

    When our friends' son was hit by a car and suffered a serious head injury my mother would babysit his sister, his parents naturally being at the hospital most of the time. My mother's duties were spelled by Merry. One night my dad, mom and I were watching the original “H t M a Mil” movie (on our 21" black and white Sylvania with its patented halo-light screen frame - wish I still had it!) when the phone rang and I answered it. A voice I immediately recognized asked for my mother and I probably stammered something inane and handed her the phone. Merry was calling to thank my mom for helping out and they arranged to have lunch. She also mentioned that she was one of the fashion show models in the film, and about 15 minutes later there she was.

    I only saw her a few times in person, as at the time she was still very busy acting, but I was always starstruck in her presence and naturally made a point of seeing everything she ever did on TV or film - who having seen it could forget her Dodie in "The Hypnotic Eye," programed to come home from the evil hypnotist's show to wash her face in acid? Fortunately Dodie - unlike any of the other women who gave themselves facials with everything from electric fans to stovetop flames - was told she'd have only a few small scars on her throat and they'd probably fade to nothing. I was very relieved to hear this prognosis. I remember her Dorothy - another Dodie! - on the 1967 reboot of "Dragnet," and even watched the terrible teenage soap opera "Never Too Young" for her Aunt Alice.

    But our fleeting crossing of paths showed me an amazingly kind, sincere, gentle and genuine lady. For years I've thought of contacting her in Encino just to tell how well I remember her kindness and warm generosity, but never did. I know people well over 80 and I kept thinking she had 10 or 15 years to go and I'd still get around to it. Well she didn't and I didn't, a lesson I've never been good at learning.

    But it's nice as well as sad to find this blog and share some of my memories about her, as she's had a constant place in my life since those 1950s suburban years. She had no reason to remember me, but she made such a deep impression on me in those formative years that to this day I smile with pleasure at the thought of her and see no reason I won't do so for the remainder of my life. Rest in Peace indeed!

    ReplyDelete