OBITUARIES : Oscar Nominee : Anne Ramsey; Praised for ‘Momma’ Role

Times Staff Writer

Anne Ramsey, the tyrannical, raspy-voiced, deliciously ugly mother in “Throw Momma From the Train,” who after 37 years of laboring in obscure Hollywood vineyards won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of that abusive matron, has died.

Her publicist, Stan Rosenfield, said the veteran actress died Thursday evening at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

She was 59 and had part of her tongue removed during throat cancer surgery three years ago. It left her with a speech impediment that heightened her character in “Momma,” a dark 1987 comedy in which Danny DeVito tries to “off” his mother--a woman with a face no one could love who roars constantly for attention and reviles and beats with a crutch her cowering son.

DeVito, who fantasizes about killing his mother, realizes he can’t perform the act himself but tries to enlist his hapless writing teacher, played by Billy Crystal, to perform the deed in exchange for killing Crystal’s ex-wife.


‘Woman of Courage’

“I loved that woman. I loved everything about her,” DeVito said Friday. “I was so delighted over the success she achieved over the past year. She was a woman of courage and should be admired by all.”

DeVito, who directed the movie, said he had gotten so desperate seeking the title character that “people were beginning to recommend their own mothers, and I was starting to check them out.”

When his casting people finally produced Mrs. Ramsey, DeVito said he was attracted by her “spirit and strength.”

“It’s about time,” growled Mrs. Ramsey when she learned of her supporting actress Academy Award nomination earlier this year. (She lost to Olympia Dukakis in “Moonstruck.”)

The diminutive, round-shouldered actress had spent nearly four decades in the theater.

Daughter of a successful insurance executive and his wife who was a descendant of the Pilgrims, she attended exclusive schools in Connecticut and made her debut the same season as Jacqueline Bouvier, the future Mrs. John F. Kennedy.

She had been fascinated with drama as a child and studied at Bennington College. She met her husband, actor Logan Ramsey, when they performed together in Maine.

Hired Dustin Hoffman

Together they have been in such films as “Any Which Way You Can.” In their earlier years they alternated acting jobs with more mundane work and once employed Dustin Hoffman as a messenger when she was coordinating dinners for the National Football League.

Most recently Mrs. Ramsey--a longtime smoker--was also seen tormenting young children in “Goonies” and playing Nick Nolte’s mother in “Weeds.

She also will be seen in four still-to-be-released films: “Doctor Hackenstein,” “Scrooge,” “Good Ol’ Boy” and “Homer and Eddie.”

Mrs. Ramsey’s television credits included roles in “The Young and the Restless,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Night Court” and “Knight Rider,” and movies-of-the-week roles in “White Mama,” “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” “Blind Ambition” and “Marilyn.”

Private funeral services will be held in her birthplace of Omaha, Neb. A memorial service will be held Aug. 20 at 1 p.m. at St. Michael & All Angels’ Episcopal Church in Studio City .

In a 1988 interview with People magazine, Mrs. Ramsey said her latent success as “Momma,” was a revitalizing experience following, as it did, her surgery and chemotherapy treatments.

“I’ve always prayed to be recognized,” she said. “But I never would have guessed that it would come at a time in my life like this.”