Mary Jane Croft Lewis, an actress best remembered as the perennial comedy sidekick of Lucille Ball in two of the late redhead's long-running television series, has died. She was 83.
Lewis died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Century City, said a friend, Madelyn Pugh Davis, the co-creator and writer of "I Love Lucy."
As an actress, Lewis made a career of portraying television's good neighbor or good friend--first as Clara Randolph, wife of Joe Randolph (played by actor Lyle Talbot) from 1956 to 1966 on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." She joined Ball and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz, in the couple's fabled "I Love Lucy" for the 1957 season, portraying neighbor Betty Ramsey.
But Lewis was at Ball's side for the long run in "The Lucy Show," which ran from 1962 to 1968, and again for her final CBS series, "Here's Lucy," which ran from 1968 to 1974. Lewis played the heroine's best friend, appearing under her own name, Mary Jane Lewis. She worked diligently and humorously to help foil Lucy's boss and nemesis, the ever-present Gale Gordon.
A friend and associate of Ball, Lewis appeared on Ball's final television special in 1979.
"What a bright bubble of joy she was," said Lucie Arnaz, who was a regular with Croft on her mother's "Here's Lucy" series. "Funny, she was the farthest thing from a ditsy blond in real life, but was just as joyous as she appeared."
After the We Love Lucy Fan Club began staging annual conventions in 1996, Lewis attended them all, participating in panel discussions, accepting honors and graciously signing autographs. She worked hard to please devoted fans, but occasionally threw up her hands in defeat when asked such questions as what she was feeling during the filming of a specific episode.
Born in Muncie, Ind., Lewis began acting on radio at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio. She moved to Los Angeles in 1939 and voiced roles on the era's major radio dramas, including "Lux Radio Theatre," "Silver Screen," "Screen Guild Theater," "One Man's Family" and "I Love a Mystery." She appeared on the radio version of "Ozzie and Harriet" and on the TV and radio versions of Eve Arden's series "Our Miss Brooks." She supplied the voice for Cleo, the basset hound, on the Jackie Cooper series "The Peeple's Choice."
Lewis was the widow of "The Lucy Show" producer, mystery novelist and actor Eliott Lewis. Her only son, Eric Zoller, was killed in the Vietnam War.
Davis said memorial services will be private.
Times staff writer Tom Gilbert contributed to this report.