Walker, Nancy (1922–1992)

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Walker, Nancy (1922–1992)

American actress, comedian, and director . Born Anna Myrtle Swoyer on May 10, 1922, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; died of lung cancer on March 25, 1992, in Studio City, California; daughter of comedian Dewey Swoyer (stage name Dewey Barto) and Myrtle (Lawler) Swoyer; attended Bentley School and the Professional Children's School, New York, 1930–40; married Gar Moore (divorced); married David Craig (a dancer and vocal coach); children: Miranda Craig .

Made stage debut on Broadway (1941), as Blind Date in Best Foot Forward; continued on Broadway (1941–60); appeared in several films (1943–76); madetelevision guest appearances (late 1950s); appeared in various television series (1970–92); directed several television series episodes (mid-1970s); received Emmy nominations for work on "McMillan and Wife" (1973, 1974, 1975), and "Rhoda" (1975); known as the Bounty paper towel spokeswoman; appeared in her last role on the television sitcom "True Colors" (1991–92).

Television series:

"Family Affair" (1970); "McMillan and Wife" (1971–76); "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" (1970s); "Rhoda" (1973–78); "The Nancy Walker Show" (1976); "Blansky's Beauties" (1976); "True Colors" (1991–92).

Born Anna Myrtle Swoyer in Philadelphia in 1922, the child of a dancer and a vaudeville acrobat, Nancy Walker traveled the vaudeville circuit with her parents. She made her first public show-stopping appearance in 1923, at ten months old, when she crawled on stage. By age ten, she decided to be a performer; by the time she was a teenager, her father's agent was helping her book minor singing engagements. A mixup at the audition for the 1941 Broadway musical comedy Best Foot Forward permanently changed her name. After Anna Swoyer was mistakenly introduced as the established singer Helen Walker to producer George Abbott, the last name stuck when his appreciation for the diminutive redhead's plucky singing style led him to create a lead role for her.

Now known as Nancy Walker, she had a brassy, confident stage presence and talent for comedy that earned her much critical praise and soon had her career humming. After Best Foot Forward closed, Walker signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and moved to Hollywood, where she appeared in a series of musical-comedy films. She missed the pace of Broadway, however, and spent the next several years commuting between Hollywood and New York. In 1956, she made her directorial debut with UTBU on Broadway. In 1957, after the musical comedy Copper and Brass made a disappointing run, despite Walker's good reviews, she moved back to California to try television work. She made a few guest appearances on such programs as "The Ed Sullivan Show."

Walker soon became a well-known fixture on American television. In the early 1970s, her interpretation of the brash, candid Ida Morgenstern on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was so well liked that her character earned a starring role in the series "Rhoda." Walker was nominated for an Emmy award three times for her portrayal of the housekeeper Mildred on the series "McMillan and Wife." She directed several episodes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Rhoda," and "Alice," and appeared in several films during the 1970s as well.

Walker was also readily recognized as the waitress Rosie in the Bounty paper towel commercials. Many film and television actors found commercial appearances beneath them, but Walker did not. "One minute's work done well is just as important as one hour," she said. Although she was adept at playing outspoken, audacious characters, offstage Walker was a more subdued, thoughtful, and observant person who wasn't quite sure why she was so successful at comedy. "I have this effect on people," she said, "so when I walk onstage, they start laughing."


Annual Obituary 1992. Detroit, MI: St. James Press, 1993.

Herbert, Ian, ed. Who's Who in the Theatre. 16th ed. London: Pittman, 1977.

Jacquie Maurice , freelance writer, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Walker, Nancy (1922–1992)

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