News broke today that Beth Howland, successful television and Broadway actress, died from lung cancer on Dec. 31, 2015. The loss comes as a huge surprise to fans but husband Charles Kimbrough said her passing hadn't been announced sooner because "she didn't want to make a fuss... it was the Boston side of her personality coming out."
Howland was greatly known for her role as accident-prone waitress "Vera Louise Gorman" in the hit-sitcom Alice. The nine season run between the '70s and '80s made her a household name and beloved TV fixture but there are many other reasons to love her. Here are just a few.
Aside from Alice, her resume was packed with roles on such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Love, American Style, Cannon, The Rookies Eight Is Enough, Little House on the Prairie, Murder, She Wrote, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and The Tick.
After several small parts on and off Broadway, Howland was cast in the Broadway hit, Stephen Sondheim musical Company, and her rendition of the song "Getting Married Today" was called a tour-de-force.
Elizabeth Howland was born on May 28, 1941, in Boston. After graduating from high school at 16, she headed to New York to be a stage actress, eventually moving to Los Angeles seeking TV opportunities.
When Alan Shayne, the president of Warner Bros. Television, began casting roles for the CBS series Alice, which was based on the 1974 Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, he took in the show Company and based on Howland’s performance and the audience’s positive reaction, he knew he had found his high-strung Vera.
Although Howland died from lung cancer on Dec. 31, 2015, in Santa Monica, Calif., her husband, the actor Charles Kimbrough who played the anchor Jim Dial on Murphy Brown, didn’t announce it in keeping with her wishes. She also did not want a funeral or a memorial service. Mr. Kimbrough told The New York Times: “She didn’t want to make a fuss.”
Howland’s portrayal of Vera was a combination of wide-eyed wonderment and anxiety ridden insecurity. Yet, Howland said of her character: "She probably worked the hardest of anybody in the diner."
Even though playing one on television made her famous, and actually taught her a few things. She said: "I just kept sitting around coffee shops and watching how it’s done, and now I can carry four dinners."
Her hat was always a little crooked and uniform aways a bit askew. The slightest thing could cause the jumpy waitress to freak out. And we found her endearing. That’s why we were happy for her when at the end of the series, she married a police officer, Elliot Novak, played by Charles Levin and announced that she was pregnant in the final episode.
She and actress Jennifer Warren executive produced the documentary You Don’t Have to Die, about a 6-year-old boy’s successful battle against cancer, which won an Academy Award in 1989 for best short-subject documentary. For her role as Vera, Howland had earned her four Golden Globe nominations.
Howland called herself very shy in a 1979 AP profile and added: "I'm a little naive sometimes, but not as much as Vera. I guess I’m really a cynic."
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