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Virginia Christine; Played 'Mrs. Olson' in Series of Coffee Ads

July 25, 1996|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Virginia Christine, the stalwart character actress who appeared in more than 400 motion pictures and television shows but will always be remembered as "Mrs. Olson" pouring Folger's coffee on couples' woes, died Wednesday. She was 76.

Christine, the widow of actor Fritz Feld, died in her sleep at their Brentwood home, her family said. She had suffered from heart problems.

For 21 years, the wise, matronly Mrs. Olson, with her braided blond hair and Swedish accent, slipped kindly into kitchens to patch up couples' rifts over bad-tasting coffee. Just use Folger's, she advised, and the husband would always stay for a second cup.

Her persona was parodied by Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason, the Swedish-born Ann-Margret and Johnny Carson, among others. She was recognized everywhere as the sage of fine coffee, and fans were genuinely surprised to learn that, despite her real Swedish descent, she had no accent.

"As Mrs. Olson I had a wardrobe of aprons the likes of which I'd never seen," she told The Times in 1985 after the commercials had run their course. "She started out as a nice cleaning lady, but thankfully over the years, and after hundreds of commercials, she came of age. She traded in her polyester J.C. Penney outfits for knit suits, and like Cinderella, Mrs. Olson was finally invited to parties, if not balls."

Christine was born to two musicians in Stanton, Iowa, a small town that later converted its water tower to look like a coffee pot in honor of her Folger's fame.

Although she studied piano, she was determined to become an actress. She moved to Hollywood when she was 17, studied at UCLA and met Feld, whom she married in 1940. (He died in 1993.)

Christine made her motion picture debut in the 1943 film "Edge of Darkness" starring Errol Flynn and set in World War II Norway. She played a peasant girl named Miss Olson.

One of Hollywood's busiest performers, Christine appeared in such films as "Mission to Moscow," "Cyrano de Bergerac," "High Noon," "Judgment in Nuremberg," "The Prize," "Four for Texas" and "A Rage to Live."

She also found parts in cult films, including "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Mummy's Curse."

A favorite actress of director Stanley Kramer, Christine worked in at least 10 of his films, including a memorable cameo as Katherine Hepburn's bigoted business partner in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."

Christine's personal favorite roles were as Hedda Gabler in the play "Hedda," which marked her stage debut, and as Mary, Queen of Scots on the television series "You Are There." She guest-starred in several major television series, including "Tales of Wells Fargo," and in television movies like "Daughter of the Mind" and "Woman of the Year."

She was the honorary mayor of Brentwood, volunteered to work with Planned Parenthood and regularly judged the annual American College Theatre Festival.

The actress is survived by two sons, Steven and Danny Feld, both of Los Angeles, and two grandchildren and two nieces.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be sent to the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills.

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