Remembering Georgia Engel From 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' & 'Everybody Loves Raymond'
Georgia Engel — July 28, 1948 - April 12, 2019
Actress Georgia Engel — star of stage, screen and TV — passed away Friday, April 12, in Princeton, New Jersey, at the age of 70.
The five-time Emmy nominee is best remembered for her roles as soft-spoken Georgette Franklin, the girlfriend and eventual wife of obnoxious newsman Ted Baxter, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1972-77, and as Pat McDougall, Amy's mother, on Everybody Loves Raymond from 2003-05.
In July 2018, Engel attended the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour as part a panel in support of the PBS special, Betty White: First Lady of Television. Engel appeared in the panel alongside the special’s director, Steve Boettcher; dancer Arthur Duncan; and her MTM costar Gavin MacLeod. Her appearance in that special was one of her last TV credits.
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During the panel, Engel shared several stories about working with the legendary White and revealed a few personal stories from her own celebrated career. So in memory of Georgia Engel, we present a few of those tales — with context — as we remember her life and career.
Not only did Engel appear with Betty White in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Betty White Show (1977-78), but also appeared in 18 episodes of TV Land’s White-led comedy Hot in Cleveland from 2012-15.
Engel shared, “Well, our friendship deepened over the years. What people don’t know is, I was coming closer to Betty when not much was happening in my career. Betty is one of my dearest friends, and so it was a special joy when I got to be on Hot in Cleveland with her.
"But my favorite times with Betty don’t have to do with show business. She opened adventures with animals to me, and I’ve had the most wonderful time getting to know animals through Betty’s love of them.”
Engel also revealed how White looked out for her post-MTM.
“After the show ended, everybody went off to do their own spinoffs, and I found out later Betty said, 'Well, what about Georgia?' And so, she took me along with her. [The Betty White Show] was a short-lived series, but it just speaks to Betty’s self-forgetfulness: Whenever she is with friends, she isn’t thinking about herself, she’s thinking about the other people.”
Engel continued, “She couldn’t stand it if Georgia would be left out when everybody else was going on to something else, and that’s how we became such good friends. I got to go on The Betty White Show, right after Mary Tyler Moore. They had only had 13 episodes, but she insisted that I be taken care of, too. That’s a really nice thing, isn’t it?”
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The actress also revealed that White helped her foster her own love of animals, leading to an unlikely friendship with a grizzly bear named BamBam.
“Betty has taken me twice to meet that bear, BamBam. She told me how to give BamBam a marshmallow with my teeth, and the bear takes it. And Betty was so happy, because she didn’t know anybody else that would want to learn that. And so we’re hoping to have another visit with BamBam sometime when she’s up to it. “
Engel also shared her joy of joining White on one of her frequent visits to the L.A. Zoo. “If you’ve ever gone to the L.A. Zoo before it opens, riding with Betty on a golf cart, she goes and sees all her friends — the animals ... She’s like the geriatric animal whisperer. Animals just take to her.”
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During the panel, Engel was asked about her current projects and shared, “I just finished doing an East Coast premiere of the musical called Half Time, with Donna McKechnie and André De Shields, and some wonderful Broadway veterans. It’s about seniors, and, believe it or not, it’s about seniors that have to do hip-hop to be the entertainment for a halftime show. It’s based on a true story, and I never worked so hard in my life. But we had a wonderful time doing it.”
The musical ran at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, N.J., from May 31-July 1, 2018.
Then, Engel shared a story from her career in which she turned a career disappointment into a triumph.
“When I finished doing Everybody Loves Raymond, there was very serious talk about there being a spinoff of Brad and Amy’s parents, and they would have used Fred Willard and me as Amy’s parents,” she said.
“The disappointment was so great when that didn’t happen. But if that had happened, I wouldn’t have been able to be in a Broadway show called, The Drowsy Chaperone that a man named Bob Martin wrote and starred in. And it happened that all these years later, he wrote this part for me in this Broadway-bound show called Half Time. And it’s given me so much joy, and he writes with such a specific, delicious sense of humor that makes me so happy.
"My grandmother always said it — but it’s hard to always believe, 'If something doesn’t happen, it means there’s something even better going to happen.' So that great disappointment was more than made up by having done some Broadway projects.”