It’s not her fault that she’s not as iconic as her husband. Who among us is? She’s still firmly ensconced in TV history, at least, and was even before she met him. After all, in her TV debut, she beat Marcia Brady in the tryouts to become head cheerleader. Okay, yes, her couple of episodes as Nurse Lacey on M*A*S*H are the year after that. But it’s still from a time when it’s clear that she wasn’t getting the part because of who she was married to; he was still married to someone else at the time. They met, but a lot of people probably did one episode of Bosom Buddies and the stars wouldn’t now be able to pick them out of a lineup, you know?
Rita Wilson was born Margarita Ibrahimoff. Her mother was Greek, from near the border with Albania. Her father was ancestrally Bulgarian but was born in Greece—and was a Muslim who converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity upon his marriage, just as Rita’s husband ended up converting upon his marriage to her, which I just learned. Her father was fluent in six languages and spoke a little bit of two more and later inspired her husband’s performance in The Terminal. She was actually born in Hollywood and grew up in LA, clearly getting into the industry early. After all, she was sixteen on that Brady Bunch episode.
Actually, she’s quite good as Nurse Lacey. One of her episodes is the truly great “Hey, Look Me Over,” and she plays one of the nurses Hawkeye flirts with over Nurse Kellye. Meaning she gets to reject Hawkeye, because by that point in the series they weren’t having every nurse fall into bed (or anyway the supply tent) with him. In her first episode, “Blood and Guts,” a famous war correspondent asks her out for a drink and she goes out with him instead. In the other, she flatly tells Hawkeye he’s bothering her while she’s trying to get her work done, and I admire that.
Is it weird that probably most people know her from Sleepless in Seattle? Yes. Don’t get me wrong; she’s great as Suzy. But she’s playing her own husband’s sister, and that’s weird. The scene she’s most famous for in it was improvised. I don’t know if that includes her tearful description of An Affair to Remember, but certainly her shaking shoulders at the Dirty Dozen bit is her trying very, very hard not to laugh at her real-life husband and her in-movie husband. I like the movie—though it’s undeservedly ranked above Joe Versus the Volcano—and that is the best scene in it.
As I recall, she was added to the schedule a year ago out of gratitude that she seemed to be surviving. She and her husband were two of the first famous people diagnosed with COVID-19. Her husband got a lot of press—one of the last things I did before really going into lockdown was tell a couple of fast food employees at a drive-through window that he’d been diagnosed—but she was right there with him. And I don’t know the exact process by which the vaccines were developed, but I do know that Rita Wilson’s antibodies might have helped develop the ones that, as of today, are fully activated in my own body, and Gods bless her for that.