Raspy-Voiced Actress Florence Halop Dies at 63

Times Staff Writer

Florence Halop, who parlayed a one-shot appearance as the cantankerous Mrs. Hufnagle on "St. Elsewhere" into 23 and succeeded the late Selma Diamond as the bailiff on NBC's "Night Court" last year, died Tuesday of cancer.

The 63-year-old actress had entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on June 19 after suffering a stroke. It was then that doctors discovered her advanced cancer.

The raspy-voiced actress, who virtually made a career of portraying characters who were simultaneously endearing and a pain in the neck, was, like Diamond who died of cancer last year, a heavy smoker.

Although she had never seen "Night Court" before taking the role of bailiff Florence Kleiner, Halop and Diamond met once back when Diamond was trying to launch a career as a comedy writer and Halop was working in radio. Diamond, whose voice also sounded like a heavy file moving across metal, asked Halop, "Do you think I talk funny?"

"Of course not," Halop answered.

Favorite Segment

Halop's portrayal of Mrs. Hufnagle, the patient no doctor wanted to treat, made "the Hufnagle spot" the writers' favorite segment of each episode of the NBC series. Mrs. Hufnagle cast a wary eye on each diagnosis, suspected every doctor and showed an unfailing instinct to inject misery into the life of Dr. Elliot Axlerod, played by Stephen Furst.

In one episode, she took one look at her hospital bill and noticed a $6.50 charge for rubbing alcohol.

"What the heck is this?" asked Mrs. Hufnagle. "I could get a bottle of Chivas for this."

Out of character, however, Halop was possessed of a gentle charm, with no trace of the grinding irritation so often found in those she portrayed.

A child radio star who worked with Orson Welles' Mercury Theater and later co-starred in the 1950s television series, "Meet Millie," Halop was fond of affecting a supercilious tone to tell interviewers: "I never went to drahmah school."

For her, the "fun days" were in radio.

"I'm so grateful I've never had time to go to drama school," she said. "I worked with people like Orson Welles, Agnes Moorehead, Ed Begley and many others. I watched, I listened and I did. That's how I learned to act. I have seen people ruined by going to drama school."

Tagging Along

She began learning her craft at 4 1/2, when she first stood in front of a radio microphone. She had been tagging along with her older brother, Billy Halop--later the leader of the original Dead End Kids--when a little girl who was to co-star with him did not show up for a performance. Halop filled in and later went on to such top radio shows as "The March of Time" and "Cavalcade of America."

Her role in television's "Meet Millie" was a personal triumph, because she played the mother of an actress who was only a year younger. She left performing to raise her two daughters but later returned in a succession of character roles on shows such as "Barney Miller," "Hill Street Blues," "All in the Family," "Soap," "Love Boat" and "CHiPs."

Halop is survived by her two daughters and two grandchildren. Funeral services will be private.

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