Family & Companions
Though her own life was marked by periods of pain, actress Marcia Wallace spent much of her career making others laugh through her frequent television appearances. She first caught audiences' attention as Bob Newhart's tart-tongued secretary on the classic "Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78). Countless comic guest shots on television series soon followed, as well as stints as celebrity contestant on game shows throughout the 1970s, which greatly benefited from her improvisational skills. Wallace was relegated to supporting parts and regional theater throughout much of the 1980s, during which she recuperated from a bout with breast cancer. But she rebounded at the end of the decade with television and theater performances, buoyed largely by her crisp, Emmy-winning turn as Mrs. Krabappel on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). The very definition of the word "survivor," both in her varied career and tumultuous life, Wallace's stubborn perseverance and her unfailing ability to simply make people laugh were warmly remembered upon her death in October 2013.
Born on Nov. 1, 1942 in Creston, IA, Wallace struggled as a child with both her weight and the abusive members of her family. But she managed to escape her oppressive home life by taking a bus to New York City on the afternoon she graduated from college to make ends meet with a variety of dead-end jobs while playing comic roles in summer stock theater. Eventually, she managed to shed 100 pounds and began landing more substantial roles in New York theater while performing with the improvisational comedy group The Fourth Wall. Their shows ran off-Broadway for a year while Wallace studied with renowned acting teacher Uta Hagen, while taking steps to launch her onscreen career with television commercials, including a spot for Crest toothpaste that aired in the early 1960s.
Eventually, Wallace worked her way up to bit and supporting comic relief roles on television sitcoms and the occasional drama while logging more than fifty appearances on "The Merv Griffin Show" (CBS/NBC/syndicated, 1962-1982). CBS chief William Paley caught one of her appearances on "Merv" and approached her to take a supporting role on a new sitcom the network was developing for comedian Bob Newhart. In 1972, Wallace had her big break on "The Bob Newhart Show," playing Carol Kester, a wise-cracking secretary in the mold of Thelma Ritter or Ann B. Davis. As Carol, Wallace was brash, more than a little scattered in her thoughts - which generally focused on men - and all in favor of giving a playful tweak to the nervous or the self-impressed, like Bob's patients Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley) or Mr. Peterson (William Fiedler). But unlike her comedic predecessors, she was also an equal with her co-workers and suitemates, which included Peter Bonerz's off-kilter orthodontist Jerry Robinson, and was treated as a friend by Bob's wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette), who tried and largely failed to correct her single status. Eventually, Carol landed a husband, travel agent Larry Bondurant (Will Mackenzie), who failed to reduce her irreverent spirit.
Though Wallace was riding high with the success of the "Newhart Show" and the slew of guest appearances that were offered to her in its wake, in private she struggled with depression and was committed to an institution for a period of time. She eventually recovered with the help of therapy and a commitment to Buddhism. When the "Newhart Show" came to an end in 1978, Wallace became a mainstay on television, especially on game shows like "Match Game" (syndicated, 1978-1982), "Password Plus" (NBC, 1978-1982) and "To Tell the Truth" (syndicated, 1969-1978), which gave her quick wit a terrific showcase. She also returned frequently to the stage in an all-female production of "The Odd Couple," among other comedies.
Though Wallace was active throughout the mid-'80s, few of the television roles that came her way were on par with her talents. Her personal life took a few side roads into dark territory during this period as well. On the evening before her wedding to Dennis Hawley, she discovered that she was suffering from breast cancer. She endured the recovery process and launched into having a child with her husband, only to discover that they were unable to conceive. They eventually adopted a son, Michael, but five years later Hawley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away after a lengthy illness. Wallace was left emotionally and financially bereft, but with the tenaciousness that marked her entire life and career, she slowly rebuilt her world, thanks in large part to friends like Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette, who helped her out of debt with a fundraiser at the Pasadena Playhouse.
After making appearances on the dinner theater circuit and in low-budget features like "Teen Witch" (1989) and "My Mom's a Werewolf" (1989), Wallace suffered another devastating setback when her house was destroyed by fire. She picked herself up once again and began landing work in voice-overs for animated series. Among these jobs is a supporting turn as a world-weary fourth-grade teacher on "The Simpsons." Though obscure at first, the show eventually skyrocketed to the status of beloved pop culture icon, with Wallace continuing to play Mrs. Krabappel throughout its lengthy run. Throughout the years, her character remained largely unchanged; once a teacher hoping to make an impact on young minds, the years of abuse at the hands of students like Bart Simpson reduced her to a cynical, chain-smoking shell whose trademark utterance - a harsh, barking "HA!" - summed up her entire world view. Mrs. Krabappel shared Carl Kester's desire for male company, though her approach was decidedly more desperate, as her choices of perennial mama's boy Seymour Skinner and crude bartender Moe Syzslak indicated. Wallace's performance was so well-liked by producers that she was eternally credited as "Special Guest Star," a distinction usually afforded to its celebrity guest stars. Wallace was also rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1992.
Back in the world of live action, Wallace found herself guest starring on popular shows like "Full House" (ABC, 1987-1995), where she enjoyed a recurring role, and "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998), where she reprised her role as Carol Kester in an episode that found Murphy (Candice Bergen) attempting to replace her assistant. The appearance earned Wallace her second Emmy nomination. She also co-starred in the short-lived satirical comedy "That's My Bush!" (Comedy Central, 2000-01) as the savvy maid to a clueless George W. Bush (Timothy Bottoms).
In 1998, Wallace's struggle with breast cancer and status as a survivor for over 15 years was covered in an issue of People magazine. The article quickly made her one of the more in-demand speakers on the subject to women's groups. She also penned her autobiography, Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way in 2004, which recounted the ups and downs of her life and career in typically humorous and honest terms. Meanwhile, Wallace and her "Simpsons" cast mates made the jump to the big screen with "The Simpsons Movie" (2007), which earned spectacular critical reviews and box office returns. That same year, she was given the Gilda Radner Courage Award from the Roswell Park Cancer Institute for her efforts in informing the public about early cancer awareness and the realities about surviving the disease. Marcia Wallace died of complications from breast cancer on October 25, 2013, nearly 30 years after her initial diagnosis. "Simpsons" producer Al Jean announced following her death that the show would retire the character of Edna Krabappel.
Cast (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made Off-Broadway debut in "The Fourth Wall"
Made episodic TV debut on "The Brady Bunch" (ABC)
Co-starred as Carol Kester on "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS)
Made TV-movie debut in "Flying High" (CBS)
Diagnosed with breast cancer; underwent lumpectomy and follow-up treatments
Was a regular on the short-lived "New Love American Style" (ABC)
Co-starred in feature film "Teen Witch"
Did voice of Mrs. Krabappel on "The Simpsons" (Fox)
IRS demanded back taxes of $79,000
Show biz pals (including Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette) bailed Wallace out of debt with a benefit at Pasadena Playhouse
Lost her home to a fire
Acted in the Off-Broadway production of "The Vagina Monologues"
Returned to series work as the White House maid on the Comedy Central series "That's My Bush!"