Beatrice Colen had a famous grandfather who was too cool to be called grandfather
The Happy Days carhop was granddaughter of a Pulitzer-winning playwright.
Most folks remember Natalie Schafer as the millionaire's wife on Gilligan’s Island, but to Beatrice Colen — a young actor who got her start as a Happy Days carhop — Schafer was the helping hand she needed in Hollywood.
According to the 2013 book Mary Wickes: I Know I've Seen That Face Before, Colen had just come to Los Angeles to start pursuing an acting career when Schafer made the fateful call that got her cast as Marsha Simms on Happy Days.
The book describes how Colen, who was known as Betsy to friends, was first spotted in public when an excited maître d' of a restaurant saw her and squealed, "Aren't you in Happy Days?!"
In the Seventies, Betsy would go on to play Wonder Woman's best friend Etta Candy, as well as memorably guest starring in hit shows like The Odd Couple and All in the Family.
And it was all thanks to Schafer nudging her acting career along.
This is surprising since Colen comes from a famous family who some might've expected were the ones to help her jumpstart her acting career.
Colen's grandfather was Pulitzer-winning playwright George S. Kaufman. He famously co-wrote The Man Who Came to Dinner, and in 1951, he won a Tony Award for directing Guys and Dolls.
He knew a thing or two about the stage, but by Colen's account, he wasn't necessarily the warmest, fuzziest grandfather on the planet.
"He insisted I call him George because 'Grandfather' made him feel old," Colen told The Sun-Advocate in 1976.
Respecting her elder, Colen called her grandfather George, but she never forgot the one time she messed up and called him the G-word.
"I never saw him outdoors but once — on the sidewalk in carpet slippers," Colen said. "I was so surprised I blurted out, 'Grandfather!' Then I became so frightened at having called him that, I ran away without hearing what he said."
Colen may have run away from her grandfather, but she was running toward an acting career and the role on Happy Days secured a bright future for her in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, Colen also had to deal with the dark times of illness.
Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 18, she was cured by a radiation treatment that, unfortunately, later was said to have caused the lung cancer that led to her death at 51.
Between those illnesses, doctors told her and her husband Patrick Cronin that they would never have kids, but they proved the doctors wrong, having two sons.
One son decided to follow in Betsy’s footsteps and start acting as a teen, not because he admired his mom, but because he was interested in a girl in his drama class.
The first play where Betsy's son would play the lead happened to come during a high school production of his great-grandfather's most famous work, The Man Who Came to Dinner.
Colen's health was fading fast and she knew she would be unlikely to make it to opening night due to her illness.
But unlike her grandfather, who wasn't extremely involved in pushing her to act, Colen died pushing her son to perform.
"No matter what happens, I want you to be on stage opening night," Colen told her son.
His opening night came on the same day that she died, and honoring his mother’s wishes, he performed in his great-grandfather's play.
Her loving husband Patrick was by her side and reported that the character actor known for playing comeback queens was cracking jokes until her final breath.
"She was sweet and she was funny," Patrick told The Los Angeles Times in 1999.