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Obituaries

Rosemary DeCamp; Actress in TV and Radio Series

February 22, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rosemary DeCamp, the venerable actress whose work ranged from radio to motion pictures to television, including leading roles in "The Life of Riley" and "The Bob Cummings Show," has died. She was 90.

DeCamp, who also was a respected copper enamel artist, died Tuesday in her Torrance home of complications of pneumonia, said her daughter, Martha Weber.

The attractive but always matronly actress looked like the warm, capable mother in the kitchen baking cookies for her children after school. She became that in real life, and she certainly played the part--often under heavy makeup to age her--on both large and small screens throughout her career.

Barely into her 30s, DeCamp was cast as James Cagney's mother in the 1942 film "Yankee Doodle Dandy," about song and dance man George M. Cohan. The same year she played Sabu's mother in "Jungle Book." In 1945 she appeared as George Gershwin's mother in "Rhapsody in Blue."

In the 1950s, DeCamp played Bob Cummings' maternal widowed sister and housekeeper, with Dwayne Hickman as her teenage son, in "The Bob Cummings Show," and she portrayed Marlo Thomas' mom in "That Girl" in the 1960s.

In private life, DeCamp was married to Inglewood Municipal Judge John Ashton Shidler from 1941 until his death in 1998. She reared four daughters and supported arts and historical groups in her community, including conducting a playwriting contest at Torrance High School for 19 years.

The Institute of Family Relations once granted her its "Mother of Distinction" award for doing "more to glorify American motherhood through her film portrayals than any other woman. . . . "

Born Nov. 14, 1910, in Prescott, Ariz., DeCamp earned bachelor's and master's degrees at Mills College because her mother wanted her to become a teacher. She taught speech and dramatic arts for one year but hated it.

She moved to New York, worked briefly as a theater critic and landed a walk-on part in George S. Kaufman's "Merrily We Roll Along" on Broadway.

Then she discovered radio, which eventually led her to movies, which in turn took her into television.

For its entire 16-year run, she was Nurse Judy on the beloved radio series "Dr. Christian," about a small-town physician. She also had roles in radio's "One Man's Family," "Hollywood Hotel," "Lux Radio Theater" and "The Career of Alice Blair," in which she acted with Martha Scott.

In 1941, Scott brought her to Hollywood by getting her a small part--DeCamp's motion picture debut--in "Cheers for Miss Bishop." DeCamp's all-time favorite film, "Hold Back the Dawn" with Charles Boyer, followed within the year.

Eager for glamour girl roles, she never got them because, she said, her "deplorable nose . . . wouldn't photograph." But by 1948, she had earned a leading role as the long-suffering Peg Riley opposite William Bendix in the film version of his comedy "The Life of Riley."

In her first television series, DeCamp again played Peg through the 1949-50 first season. But Bendix, who was long identified with "Riley," was too busy making lucrative motion pictures, so his role went to newcomer Jackie Gleason.

DeCamp never lacked for work, churning out several early 1950s films.

In 1955, she signed on for her second and longer-lasting television series, "The Bob Cummings Show." Through 1959, and for many years afterward in syndication, she played Margaret Macdonald, motherly older sibling to Cummings' playboy photographer Bob Collins.

DeCamp was Marlo Thomas' mother from 1966 to 1970 on "That Girl," which became a prototype for series about independent young career women.

Turning more to family and community, DeCamp was little seen in films after the comedy horror movie "13 Ghosts" in 1960.

She traveled, golfed and became a respected enamelist, staging one-woman shows of her art at the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry and several galleries.

She also wrote a children's novel, "Here Duke," in 1962 and in 1991 published her memoirs, "Tales From Hollywood," as an audio book.

In addition to Weber, DeCamp is survived by three other daughters, Margaret Zambranzo, Valerie Stanton and Nita Shidler, and a grandson.

The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the scholarship fund DeCamp established in honor of her late husband, aiding Southern California high school students who plan college studies in history: The John A. Shidler Memorial Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1005, San Pedro, CA 90733-1005.

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