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Noted Actress Hermione Baddeley Dies

August 21, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Hermione Baddeley, whose talents brought her both plaudits and productions from such playwrights as George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams, died Tuesday.

The seasoned actress, probably best known to Americans as "Maude's" blowzy, prevaricating cook on the long-running television series, was believed to be 79 and had been hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a stroke.

The widow of a British nobleman, her personal life was dominated by the literati of her day, a marked contrast to the series of often ribald characters she portrayed in a career that began when she was 8.

That was as a tiny page in "The Marriage of Figaro."

Shaw saw her perform on stage four years later, at age 12, and sent her a card in which he suggested "change your name from Baddeley to Goodeley."

Cast by Williams

Another famed playwright, Williams, was in the audience for her first Broadway appearance, "A Taste of Honey" in 1960, and insisted that she become his Flora Goforth, the gruff, grasping widow who has buried six husbands in "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More."

Often called England's pre-eminent character actress, Miss Baddeley portrayed old women in her youth and second romantic leads well into her later years.

But British audiences loved her best as the musical revue queen who kept them laughing in "Nine Sharp," a collection of songs and gags she assembled with co-star Cyril Ritchard in the dark days before World War II.

Later she returned to the revue stage with namesake Hermione Gingold in "Sweet and Low" but the union ended when the relationship between the two British stage and film queens proved less sanguine than the title of their show implied.

Miss Baddeley was a descendant of Sir Henry Clinton, the British general who captured New York City in the Revolutionary War.

After a series of child roles (some with her sister Angela, Mrs. Bridges on the TV series "Upstairs Downstairs," who died in 1976), Miss Baddeley played a cockney girl in "The Likes of Her" when she was 15.

Double Date With Queen Mother

Her future husband, David Tennant, was in the theater, escorting Lady Oxford, the wife of Herbert Henry Asquith, the former British prime minister. He became captivated with "this lovable child."

Her first outing with the son of Lord Glencarner was a double date with the Queen Mother and her escort.

They married two years later and spent their early years at his Gargoyle Club, where Virginia Woolf, T. S. Elliot and W. H. Auden held forth.

"I don't know how many times we put (poet) Dylan Thomas to bed at the club to sleep it off," she said in a 1978 interview with The Times.

After her children were born, she returned to the theater in "The Greeks Had a Word for It," "Fallen Angel" and "Rise Above It" before launching yet another career in the prewar revues.

She so captivated Noel Coward that he wrote the song "Poor Little Rich Girl" for a scene in which she appeared in his "On With the Dance," Coward's first revue in London's Pavilion Theater.

Miss Baddeley made the first of about 30 films in 1928 ("The Guns of Loos") but started becoming a screen regular in 1947 with "Brighton Rock" and "Young Scarface," followed in the next few years by "Quartet," "Passport to Pimlico," "The Pickwick Papers," "Scrooge/A Christmas Carol" (as Mrs. Cratchit) and "Tom Brown's School Days."

Nominated for Oscar

She was nominated for a best-supporting actress Oscar for her work in the 1959 melodrama "Room at the Top," and again demonstrated her versatility by playing off that serious performance with acclaimed roles in "Mary Poppins" and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."

After two tries at television series ("Camp Runamuck" in 1965 and "The Good Life" in 1971), she heeded the entreaties of Norman Lear, who found his popular heroine "Maude" without kitchen help after Esther Rolle left the show in 1974 to star in her own series, "Good Times."

Hermione Baddeley, wife of nobility and darling of George Bernard Shaw, became Mrs. Nell Naugatuck, the huffy live-in kitchen impresario who made abominable coffee. If Mrs. Naugatuck wasn't claiming to be a duchess in distress, she would boast to Maude Findlay of the bordello she had operated in Australia or tell of her sometime affairs with Winston Churchill.

Miss Baddeley also was seen regularly on "Little House on the Prairie," was in the TV movie "Shadow Chasers" and wrote an autobiography titled "The Unsinkable Hermione Baddeley."

A widow, she will be buried in England, said Paul Marsh, her publicist and friend.

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