12 other times we saw Natalie Schafer on hit TV shows
Dawn Wells: "Natalie was Mrs. Howell personified."
Friends of Natalie Schafer, – the brilliant actor who frequently stole the spotlight from the other castaways as Lovey Howell on Gilligan's Island – all have the exact same thing to say about her: That is one very funny lady.
As her Gilligan's Island castmate Russell Johnson told the Archive of American Television, "She was a New York actress for many years in the theater, a beautiful, beautiful young woman, but she was funny too. She had a very dry sense of humor. Very funny." Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann Summers on the hit show, paints the picture even clearer, "She was so much like her character. Natalie was Mrs. Howell personified. … Very, very much a character."
In his interview, famed Hollywood publicist Frank Liberman used a different word, "Outrageous." He continued, "Very much a lady. There are so many Natalie Schafer stories."
But today, we're not as interested in who Natalie Schafer was in the real world (although with summer coming, we are eyeing her all-ice cream diet). Instead, we wanted to look back at all the times this lovely veteran actor graced our TV screens, going by names other than Lovey, like Bunny Mason, Madame Renee and Deborah Darling.
What we found was a treasure trove of guest roles from the 1950s through the 1980s featuring this absolute gem of a Hollywood icon. And from teaching Lucy's charm school, to humoring Cindy Brady's best Shirley Temple impression, Schafer's list of TV credits packs a whole lot of character beyond Mrs. Howell.
1. Charm school teacher on I Love Lucy (1954)
In the third season of I Love Lucy, we watched Lucy and Ethel enroll in charm school, convinced that Ricky and Fred had lost interest in them. Helping the best friends correct their posture is Phoebe Emerson, the charm school teacher brought to life by Natalie Schafer. "The hips go first," we watched Schafer advise on the sitcom, "and the body follows," she said, as she swayed about the room, looking as elegant as ever with pearls on her ears, neck and wrists.
2. Charlotte Bronte's best friend on The Loretta Young Show (1953)
Schafer showed up in two episodes of The Loretta Young Show, but our favorite was her first in the first season episode "The Bronte Story." In it, Schafer plays Mary to Young's Charlotte Bronte, her best friend who supports her through her courtship and marriage. It's a star-studded episode for classic TV fans, because Batman's Alan Napier (Alfred) plays Charlotte's overbearing father, but we maybe like it best simply because of Schafer's adorable bonnet.
3. Beauty industry exec Deborah Darling on The Phil Silvers Show (1959)
"Where is your mother, dear, it's her I want to see," Sgt. Bilko flatters Natalie Schafer's character Deborah Darling on an episode of The Phil Silvers Show. In it, Schafer's character represents the beauty industry, which Bilko desperately wants to hock his anti-wrinkle cream to. Deborah, of course, has no time to waste on his simpleton compliments, and when she sniffs out Silvers' scheme, he says to her, "I see it now! You're as ruthless as you are beautiful!"
4. Kookie's first client as a private detective on 77 Sunset Strip (1962)
The very first client Kookie takes on when he starts his career as a private detective on 77 Sunset Strip is Natalie Schafer, playing a wealthy woman simply dubbed Aunt Ellie. It's a fan favorite episode, where Aunt Ellie rings a lot of bells we'd later hear in Schafer's performance as Mrs. Howell. Bonus: John Astin plays her chauffeur, giving us a prequel of his famous Addams Family character's demeanor, too.
5. Julie Newmar's future mother-in-law in Route 66 (1962)
On the dramatic anthology series Route 66, Natalie Schafer guest-starred alongside Julie Newmar in the episode "Give the Old Cat a Tender Mouse." The plot cast Newmar as Tod Stiles' love Vicki Russell, who's rushing off to marry another man named Franck Bridenbaugh (a last name that by our rough translation literally means "little bride"). Schafer plays Bridenbaugh's mother Emily and her husband John is played by Murray Matheson, who you might remember as the clown from The Twilight Zone episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit."
6. Dress shop owner Madame Renee on The Beverly Hillbillies (1964)
When Jed gets convinced to invest in a dress shop, it's Madame Renee's he chooses, and who should be cast as the luxurious fashionista but Natalie Schafer. The entire episode is a comedy of errors, with Madame Renee assuming the Clampetts are poor and in need of her charity, and the Clampetts assuming the same of her. It all culminates in a hilarious fashion show at the Clampetts' mansion, with Elly modeling Madame Renee's looks, including a glamorous wedding gown!
7. A mom who disapproves of her daughter dating Goober on Mayberry R.F.D. (1970)
In the third season of Mayberry R.F.D., Goober gets a taste of how the other half lives when he agrees to housesit and his chore comes with a Rolls Royce he can tool about Mayberry in. His fancy ride catches the eye of a fancy lady named Diane, and Goober finds himself putting on airs to impress Diane's mom, who hopes her daughter will marry well. The mother is played by Natalie Schafer, who's delightful in a scene that puts two of our favorite comedic actors from the Sixties in a surprise meeting over lunch in Mayberry's finest restaurant.
8. Manager of a luxury apartment complex on Mannix (1972)
Bunny Mason manages pink luxury apartments Mannix visited once in an episode called "A Game of Shadows," which also features Lost in Space's Marta Kristen in an intriguing supporting role as a secretary. When Mannix arrives, Bunny is playing piano in decadent red fur and lace, with pencilled-on eyebrows and her hair up in a limp Victorian bouffant. She's so into her playing, Mannix has to let himself in, which he does. She assumes he's there to rent a room, but once he reveals he's there to investigate the murder of one of her tenants, she gives him all the info he needs, mostly because he's from Los Angeles, and Bunny just adores that real city Los Angeles.
9. One of Mike's most problematic clients on The Brady Bunch (1974)
One of the last episodes of The Brady Bunch is a fan favorite called "The Snooperstar," which finds Cindy caught sneaking peeks at Marcia's diary. Marcia retaliates by writing fake entries, including one about talent scouts coming to see Cindy, believing she could be "the next Shirley Temple." At the same time at Mike's architect firm, we watch Mike struggle with a difficult client called Penelope Fletcher, played by Schafer. As Mike works hard to please his client, he invites her by the house, and that's when Cindy mistakes Ms. Fletcher for the talent scout and does the most awkward Shirley Temple impressions to ever air. Schafer's all comedy in her reactions when confronted by this unexpectedly confident child star upon entering the Brady home.
10. Wife to a big family man on the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader episode of The Love Boat (1979)
Natalie Schafer appeared in a pretty famous two-part episode of The Love Boat. It's the same one that featured all those Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. If you looked past the pom poms, you would've seen Schafer snuggling up to John Hillerman, playing his loving wife Mrs. Hartnett. Their segment featured Hillerman as a big shot who only hires family men in his company, which is why a bachelor who's hoping to land a job hires actors to play his family and pull one over on the Hartnetts.
11. Impatient woman in the flower shop where Jack and Janet work on Three's Company (1978)
In the Three's Company episode "Jack in a Flower Shop," Jack tries to impress Janet by coming to work with her at a flower shop, but unsurprisingly, he just can't take the gig seriously. Among the customers he fails to give adequate service to is Natalie Schafer in a great cameo where she's billed simply as "Impatient Woman."
12. Another woman who's dog gets kidnapped on CHiPs (1983)
One of the most tragic fates to befall Natalie Schafer on a TV screen is definitely dog theft. It happens again on CHiPs in the episode "Journey to a Spacecraft." Her character's named Mrs. Birdwing, and the episode opens with her dog being snatched and ridden off on a motorcycle. Ponch and Bobby are assigned to the case and don't you worry, Mrs. Howell always gets her dog back.
See also: Can you guess which TV show the cast of Gilligan's Island is on?
Revisit every other fateful trip the castaways took on TV and see if you can guess the show in a wide range of guest roles. TAKE QUIZ.