June 24, 2008

Columbus Dispatch

“Mary Hartman” mom enjoyed “dopey” roles

By Michael Kuchwara


NEW YORK – Columbus native Dody Goodman – the delightfully daffy comedian known for her TV appearances on Jack Paar's late-night talk show and as the mother on the soap-opera parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” – has died at 93.

Goodman died Sunday at Englewood (N.J.) Hospital and Medical Center, said Joan Adams, a family friend. The actress, who had been ill for some time, had been living in the Actors Fund Home in Englewood since October.

Goodman received national attention on “The Tonight Show” when Paar was host in the late 1950’s. Her quirky, off-kilter remarks endeared audiences.

“I was just thrown into the talking,” Goodman said in a 1994 interview. “I had no idea how to do that.”

After a falling out with Paar, Goodman appeared on other chat shows, including “The Merv Griffin Show” and “Girl Talk.”

She entered America's pop-culture consciousness as Mary’s imbecilic mother on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” which aired from 1976 to ‘78. She whined the singsong title during each episode’s opening credits.

She was born Dolores Goodman on Oct. 28, 1914, in Columbus, where her father ran a small cigar factory. The North High School graduate made her Broadway debut in 1949 in Irving Berlin’s Miss Liberty.

She established her daffy persona four years later as Violet in Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, based on My Sister Eileen, a novel by Ohio State University graduate Ruth McKenny.

“I do a lot of daffy stuff, a lot of craziness,” Goodman told The Dispatch in January 1989, just before returning to Columbus to star in the national tour of Nunsense.

While Pat Carroll, Phyllis Diller, and others chose to play the slightly larger Nunsense role of Mother Superior, Goodman chose the role of Sister Mary Amnesia.

“I think I understand her better, maybe because she’s a lot like some of the other characters I’ve played,” she said in the interview.

Goodman’s stage roles with Kenley Players often brought her to WBNS-TV (Channel 10) for interviews, said John Haldi, a retired programming chief.

“She was an amazing character with a really good soul,” Haldi said. “Very fey in her attitudes – and charming, actually. She’ll be missed. She loved the theater. She was a sweet lady.”

Goodman’s film roles ranged from Tom Hanks’ daffy secretary in Splash to Eve Arden’s secretarial assistant in Grease and Grease II.

“Dody had the most impeccable comic timing,” said Dan Goggin, the musical’s creator.

Goodman left Columbus for New York in the late 1930’s to study dance at the School of American Ballet and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School.

She covered the comedy repertoire onstage, from Arsenic and Old Lace to Born Yesterday. Before Nunsense, her previous Columbus performance had been a decade earlier when she co-starred with Carol Channing in Lorelei at the Ohio Theatre.

“I had to make so many transitions into other things,” Goodman said in an Associated Press interview. “When I first came out of dancing, I did revues.”

More recently, she appeared on the “Late Show With David Letterman.” “He understands my sense of humor,” she said. “I will do a dumb thing for fun. That’s how I got the reputation for being dopey and dumb.”

Dispatch reporters Tim Feran and Michael Grossberg contributed to this story.

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