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Nancy Walker — Life and Death of the Iconic 'Rhoda' Star and Comedian

Christell Fatima M. Tudtud
Jul 20, 2020
09:00 P.M.

Nancy Walker was a petite woman largely known for her comedic chops in Hollywood. The comedian, who passed away in 1992, played the iconic titular role in the series, “Rhoda.”

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But if Walker had her way, she would have become a singer. Unfortunately, no one took her love for singing seriously.

Born into a family of comedic performers in Philadelphia, Walker gravitated toward comedy growing up. She picked up the genre at a young age, as reported by IMDb.

Nancy Walker as Ida Morgenstern and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard on the 1975 comedy series "Rhoda." | Photo: Getty Images

Nancy Walker as Ida Morgenstern and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern Gerard on the 1975 comedy series "Rhoda." | Photo: Getty Images

She followed in the footsteps of her vaudevillian father, Dewey Barto, who was part of the comedy team, “Barto & Mann.” Her sister performed, too, but only for a short period.

Comedy became Walker’s forte growing up, as reported by Baltimore Sun. Walker, known as Anna Myrtle Swoyer in real life, could effortlessly make her audience laugh.

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With a number of Broadway shows under her belt, she made an easy transition into another medium – television acting.

Hollywood comedian Nancy Walker in New York in 1990. | Photo: Getty Images

Hollywood comedian Nancy Walker in New York in 1990. | Photo: Getty Images

Walker made her Broadway debut at the age of 19, performing in 1941’s “Best Foot Forward.” Her audition convinced producer George Abbott to create a role for her even though it was not part of the early stages of the production.

The production changed after her audition, with Walker getting 12 lines and performing two songs. She managed to show off her comical talent.

It was because of this play that she adopted her screen name, “Nancy Walker.” The raspy-voiced comedian appeared in more Broadway shows, helping her sharpen her craft.

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Nancy Walker during a 1975 TV show with Paul Lynde. | Photo: Getty Images

Nancy Walker during a 1975 TV show with Paul Lynde. | Photo: Getty Images

As reported by Los Angeles Times, the comedian performed in Broadway shows “Barefoot Boy with Cheek,” “Look Ma, I’m Dancing,” and “Fallen Angels.”

Aside from being a Broadway actress, Walker also ventured into directing. She directed Broadway shows in 1956, working with such theater stars as Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall.

She was cremated, and her ashes were spread in the sea.

A 1976 portrait of comedian star Nancy Walker. | Photo: Getty Images

A 1976 portrait of comedian star Nancy Walker. | Photo: Getty Images

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With a number of Broadway shows under her belt, she made an easy transition into another medium – television acting. She moved to Los Angeles and launched her TV career in 1970, landing one of the lead roles in the hit comedy series “Rhoda.”

Aside from this show, she also had appearances in “Macmillan and Wife.” Because of her exceptional work, Walker was thrice nominated for an Emmy Award.

After decades of acting, Walker died of lung cancer in March 1992, at the age of 69. She was cremated, and her ashes were spread in the sea.

Television and stage actor Brian Keith. | Photo: Getty Images

Television and stage actor Brian Keith. | Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile, Walker’s colleague, Brian Keith, from the 1970 show “Family Affair,” had a tragic life despite his Hollywood fame. His daughter’s death devastated him amid his battle with terminal lung cancer and emphysema.

In the final season of "Family Affair," Walker portrayed a part-time housekeeper, who was hired by Keith’s character, Bill Davis.

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