Margaret Kathleen Regan always found it amusing that she was typecast as Jewish mothers, all things considered. Her stage name, Kay Medford, could be from anywhere, but the actress herself was quite obviously of Irish descent. On the other hand, since she got her professional start in the Catskills, she certainly would’ve been exposed to more than a few Actually Jewish Performers. What’s more, she herself had been orphaned, but anyone who’s in show business for very long doubtless ends up with no few stories of the kind of overbearing, overprotective mother she played a lot. Despite also not having any children of her own.
Kay Medford doesn’t have the kind of career that people talk about. Well, neither do a lot of the people we cover around here. Sometimes, you’ve heard of them after I explain who they are. Sometimes, you haven’t. And as I’ve said repeatedly, I like writing about people like that, because they’re important to the industry. Oh, I grant you that “Mighty Lak a Goat,” the Our Gang short she was in, is perhaps not the most vital film ever made. On the other hand, entertainment doesn’t have to be vital to be important, if you understand what you mean.
So while, fine, she was in the Andy Griffith classic A Face in the Crowd, that doesn’t make her work more important as a concept than the fact that she was in The Busy Body, a weird Sid Caesar mob comedy that I’ve never heard of. Just because A Face in the Crowd is almost certain to be a better movie (I suppose you could pay me on Patreon or Ko-fi to find out, if you care, which you probably don’t) doesn’t mean that it’s the only important art.
Probably the reason I put her on the schedule, if I were guessing—I’m often guessing—is her appearance on Barney Miller. Well, one of them; Barney Miller was still in the “sure, this person will show up as multiple characters, because IMDb is not yet a thing” years. Anyway, she played a character who owned a porn store, and her children were upset about it. It’s a good performance, one of the many solid ones that the show thrived on over the years. As I’ve pointed out many times by now, you couldn’t have Barney Miller without actresses like Kay Medford.
It was also her final role; you can’t really say sixty is young, but you can say that it’s surprisingly young for someone in Hollywood to die if there isn’t an exterior reason. Kay Medford didn’t have a drug habit; she had cancer. She would probably be better known today if she hadn’t had cervical cancer; it’s not difficult to see her having an iconic role on Murder, She Wrote or similar. As it is, I can’t imagine there are a lot of fans of Swing Shift Maisie excited to see the person billed sixth get her due, you know?