Sheila Mac Rae, best known for portraying Alice Kramden in the Honeymooners, died on March 6 in the Lillian Booth Actor's Home in Englewood, N.J. Sheila will be remembered for her class, her wit, her dignity and, of course, talent. Gordon Mac Rae had been her husband and together they gave birth to Heather, Gare, Bruce and Meredith.
I remember Sheila singing to my own 95-year-old mother in a wheelchair inside a café by Lincoln Center. She sang Surrey with the Fringe on Top from Oklahoma and my mother would smile as Heather, Sheila and I would serenade. Sheila had an enormous heart and more talent than most. She could write, sing, dance and produce and was a founding member of S.H.A.R.E. a charitable organization formed by wives of Hollywood celebrities. A great raconteur, she loved telling us about how Hollywood used to be as friends would listen wide-eyed to stories of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Generous, she once gave me acting lessons and was encouraging and kind. Being in her company made me feel special because she had so much class and was so caring.
I remember going to the Lillian Booth Actor's Home and singing around a piano as Sheila serenaded the other patients with songs from Oklahoma.
If one believes in best friends, Heather Mac Rae is mine and she invited me into their show business family and made me feel a part of it. Even after their divorce in 1980, my therapist, Evelyn Silvers formerly married to Phil Silvers, arranged for me to meet Gordon Mac Rae who took me to my first sober meeting of alcoholics. Gordon helped me to save my life.
"Will you take me to another meeting?" I asked Gordon.
"Not if you drink." Gordon said.
And so originally got sober for Gordon Mac Rae.
I wish Gordon and Sheila had stayed married, but, alas, this wasn't mean to be. Sheila remained the nurturing force behind keeping her children together. When Meredith died a difficult death due to a brain tumor, Sheila stood by her and Meredith's precocious daughter Allison Mullavey whose father is the skillful, dedicated actor Greg Mullavey. Sheila's composer son, Bruce, whose gentle spirit is remembered by so many, died suddenly of a heart attack and is survived by his stunning wife, Mari Terzaghi, a psychoanalyst. Heather's remaining brother Gare, who is retired from Paramount Studios, is flying in from Washington State to New York to organize a cremation and memorial which could be at Sardi's. Sheila loved going to Sardi's who treated her like the Queen of Hollywood's Golden Past because she was. There will be no funeral as Sheila was devout Christian Scientist.
Sheila was born September 24, 1920 in London, England. She was best known for her outrageous performance of Alice Kramden on the Jackie Gleason Show, and prior to this starred in 1963 on General Hospital. Sheila was born Sheila Margaret Stephens and appeared in such films as Pretty Baby (1950), Caged (1950), Backfire (1950), and Sex and the Single Girl (1964). But it was performance on I Love Lucy in an episode titled The Fashion Show for which she was famously remembered as well as her appearances with Gordon Mac Rae on the stage in such musical productions as a 1964 production of The Bells Are Ringing, and Guys and Dolls.
Her accomplishments are one thing, but I will always remember her for her generosity of heart, her radiant smile, her lilting voice when she sang, "O What a Beautiful Mornin", and I will miss her.
How fitting that on March 16 for one month Heather, Sheila's-the-show-must-go-on-daughter, will be starring in I remember Mama at the Transport Theatre Group in Manhattan. Will she be able to perform with dry eyes? I will be in the audience remembering her mama as well, the loving Sheila Mac Rae.