LOS ANGELES — Kaye Ballard, the boisterous comedian and singer who appeared in Broadway musicals and nightclubs from New York to Las Vegas and starred with Eve Arden in the 1960s TV sitcom “The Mothers-In-Law,” has died. She was 93.
Ballard died Monday night at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, after a fight with kidney cancer, her friend Marguerite Gordon said Tuesday.
“The Mothers-In-Law,” in which Ballard starred with Eve Arden (of the 1950s sitcom “Our Miss Brooks”), aired from 1967 to 1969. It marked a high point in a career that began when Ballard was 12 and lasted into the 21st century.
She was on hand last week when a documentary on her life and career premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
“The Mothers-In-Law” was set in a Los Angeles suburb and featured its stars as women who become thorns in their married children’s lives, with comedic results influenced by the screwball style of “I Love Lucy.”
Desi Arnaz, who starred with wife Lucille Ball in that classic sitcom, produced and directed 24 episodes of the Ballard-Arden show. The “I Love Lucy” team of Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis were the show’s creators and lead writers.
Ballard made a mark in every form of show business except movies. She did appear as a secondary player in a few films, including 1958’s “The Girl Most Likely” starring Jane Powell and in 1964’s “A House Is Not a Home,” but her high-octane personality may have been too potent for the big screen of that era and its more restrictive portrayals of women.
Ballard’s first real break came when she was singing in a Detroit nightclub, The Bowery. Comedy bandleader Spike Jones dropped in one night and quickly drafted the exuberant young singer into his musical contingent. For two years she toured with Jones’ troupe, singing, playing the flute and tuba and engaging in the band’s antics. She also sang with the bands of Vaughn Monroe and Stan Kenton.
In 1945 she moved to New York and sought work in theatre, appearing on Broadway in a small part in the revue “Three to Make Ready.” She toured in summer stock and finally made a dent in New York as a madcap Helen of Troy in 1954’s “The Golden Apple,” drawing applause with her song “Lazy Afternoon.” One critic called her performance “a wonder of insinuation.”
She also won critical praise for her role as “The Incomparable Rosalie,” the magician’s assistant and mistress in 1961’s “Carnival!,” a musicalized version of the movie “Lili.” She sang “Always, Always You” while stretched out in a box the jealous magician was piercing with swords.
Ballard began working on TV in the early 1950s, becoming an in-demand performer on network variety programs including “The Mel Torme Show” and those of Ed Sullivan and Perry Como. She also became a favourite of talk show hosts, making repeat appearances with Jack Paar, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson.
She was a regular on “The Doris Day Show” in the 1970s and the 1990s TV series “Due South.”
Her nightclub act played in first-class venues including the Blue Angel in New York, Mr. Kelly’s in Chicago, the Flamingo in Las Vegas and the hungry i in San Francisco.
The late AP Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.
Lynn Elber, The Associated Press