Mabel Albertson was born on July 24th, 1901, in Lynn, Massachusetts to Russian immigrant Flora (Craft), and Polish immigrant Leo Albertson. A brother, Jack, was born in 1907 after the family moved to Malden, Massachusetts. Mabel studied acting at the New England School of Speech and Expression, and began her career during the 1920's. Her first appearances were in vaudeville, stage and nightclub acts, and during this period she worked with the legendary comic Jimmy Durante. Following a brief marriage to Harold Austin Ripley, during which her son George was born in 1926, Mabel decided to pursue a career in film. Mabel's first screen credit was in the 1928 film "Gang War", which was one of the first silents to feature talking sequences. When her movie career failed to take-off, Mabel switched her focus to radio where she found a steady stream of work during the 1930's. She co-starred with comedian Phil Baker on "The Armour Hour" from 1933 to 1935, and then with Pinky Lee on NBC's "Dress Rehearsal" during 1936-37, to which she contributed joke and script ideas.
In 1937, Mabel married stage, radio, and film writer Ken Englund, who adopted her son George. Ken was signed by Paramount Pictures during the late-30s, where he penned the screenplays for the musicals The Big Broadcast of 1938 and Artists and Models Abroad. He subsequently worked for RKO, Columbia Studios, 20th Century Fox and The Samual Goldwyn Company, where he co-wrote the script for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and also came up with some of the "Goldwynisms" attributed to the legendary producer. For example, "A hospital is no place to be sick" and "Gentlemen, include me out."
Portrait of the Lady - Mabel Albertson
Mabel worked with Orson Welles in the Campbell Playhouse radio production of Escape in 1939. She also made another attempt at movie stardom during this year, playing a widow in the motion picture Mutiny on the Blackhawk. During the 1940s, Mabel concentrated mainly on radio and stage work. She became an active member of The Pasadena Playhouse, co-starring in numerous plays and also directing a production of Craig's Wife in June of 1948.
Albertson Appears in The Adventures of Superman in 1953
With the advent of television, Mabel began a long and successful career as a character actress in the 1950's. Her numerous TV credits during this decade include roles on The Adventures of Superman and The Jack Benny Program (both 1953), numerous appearances on The Loretta Young Show, and also parts on Make Room for Daddy (1956) and Gunsmoke (1957). Mabel also starred on the series Those Whiting Girls, which was produced by Desilu between 1955 and 1957. Mabel's film career also took off during this period, and she had prominent roles in About Mrs. Leslie (1954), Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki (1955), Forever Darling opposite Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (1956), The Long Hot Summer opposite Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Orson Welles (1958), and Don't Give Up the Ship with Jerry Lewis (1959). Her son George Englund married actress Cloris Leachman in 1953, and Mabel became a grandmother upon the birth of their son George Jr. Four additional grandchildren eventually followed.
Albertson in Cobweb in 1955
Mabel's greatest success and popularity occurred during the 1960s. Her TV work continued at a rapid pace, beginning with a co-starring role on The Tom Ewell Show in 1960. This was followed by guest-starring roles on numerous major sitcoms: The Munsters, The Lucy Show, That Girl, and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; and a number of dramas Gunsmoke, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, The Wild, Wild West, Dragnet, and The Virginian, among others. In 1964, she was hired to play the role of Darrin Stephens's mother Phyllis on Bewitched, a role she reprised eighteen times during the show's eight year run, and which resulted in Mabel's oft-repeated line "Frank, I'm getting a sick headache" becoming her pop-culture signature. Mabel had another recurring role during the 1960s on The Andy Griffith Show, in which she played Mrs. Sprague on four occasions between 1966 and 1968. Mabel's film work during this decade included feature roles in All The Fine Young Cannibals opposite Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner in 1960, A Fine Madness with Sean Connery and Jean Seberg in 1966, and Barefoot In The Park with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in 1967.
Albertson Bewildered as Phyllis Stephens on Bewitched
Mabel's career assumed a slower pace in the 1970s due to her advancing years, but she still managed to guest-star on Marcus Welby, M.D., The Paul Lynde Show, and The New Dick Van Dyke Show. She also appeared opposite Barbra Streisand in both Vincente Minnelli's On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) and in Peter Bogdanovich's "What's Up Doc?" (1973). Mabel's daughter-in-law Cloris Leachman won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Last Picture Show in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Mabel co-starred with Cloris in the TV movie Pete and Tillie in 1974. Mabel's brother, Jack Albertson, was also a successful actor by this time, having won both a Tony Award in 1962 and an Academy Award in 1968 for his performances in the stage and film versions of The Subject Was Roses. He later went on to co-star with Freddie Prinze in the popular sitcom Chico and the Man in the mid-70s.
Albertson on The Paul Lynde Show
Following a guest-starring role on The Mary Tyler Moore
Show in 1975, Mabel Albertson retired from the acting profession.
Her health and memory were beginning to fail, and she eventually became
one of the first people diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease when senile
dementia was renamed after German scientist Dr. Alois Alzheimer in the
late 1970s. Ten months after the death of her brother Jack on November
21st, 1981, Mabel Albertson succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer's
on September 28th, 1982 at the age of 81. She was survived by her husband
Ken, who passed away on August 10th, 1993.