Once again, we are exactly in this column’s wheelhouse. An actress with some three hundred movie and TV credits even before you get into the individual episode count? Who I had to look up when she was suggested? Of whom I needed to find an illicit upload of a movie in order to manage a clumsy screen cap of the place where I picture her? That’s it, there we go. That’s the kind of person we put in here, the kind of person we intend to celebrate more often.
So maybe you haven’t seen Support Your Local Sheriff, and you don’t remember her going from concern about someone’s well-being to cackling at her past mistakes. In which case, you know, go see Support Your Local Sheriff. And maybe, even if you’ve seen Caroline in the City, you don’t remember her two performances as Grandma Duffy; that’s understandable. I’m certainly not claiming her every performance was noteworthy and memorable. Frankly, I had to Google a lot of her roles even in noteworthy movies to figure out who she played, and the main reason I went with Support Your Local Sheriff was that it was about the only time I could figure it out just from a character name.
Because I didn’t remember that Emma is the housekeeper in the Vincent Price version of The Fly. (It would’ve been a nice bit of symmetry if she’d had a bit part in the Goldblum; goodness knows she was still working at the time.) And I had to Google Enid Borden from Dragnet—she’s the landlady—though I’m pleased she’s in it, given her first TV role was on Dragnet. Most fun of all, I had to Google who Phoebe Dinsmore was in Singin’ in the Rain, because all I remember her as is “Ahnd I cahn’t stahnd him.” But there she is, attempting to teach Lina Lamont how to talk.
There you go—you can picture her now, can’t you? It’s one of the best bits in a movie packed with great bits, and I feel as though that’s one of the things she did best. What’s more, even if she didn’t have that particular moment, she was one of the Working Actresses who made the industry run smoothly for decades. We need people like Kathleen Freeman, people who almost never do important characters but play the minor characters who fill out the worlds of movies and TV shows. Even if we don’t have a clear image on who they are, the industry grinds to a halt without them.
And, of course, there’s the fact that UK obituaries mentioned her long-time partner, Helen Ramsey, and her US obituaries did not. Which is, let’s be real, awful for Ramsey. Freeman died in 2001; at the time of her death, she was a voice actress on the show As Told by Ginger and working in the stage musical of The Full Monty. That’s a modern life and a modern death. And my goodness but it was well after the idea of long-time companions was an established one. But, sure, let’s pretend they’re not.