Lilian Bronson, an actress with more than 80 movie and television credits and the subject of a giant Hollywood Freeway mural, died in San Clemente on Tuesday at the age of 92.
Bronson had been hospitalized after a stroke. She had most recently lived at a Laguna Niguel board and care home. Before that, she lived for years at the Treasure Island Mobile Home Park in Laguna Beach, where a memorial celebration will be held later this month.
The famed Kent Twitchell mural, which portrayed Bronson as the “Old Woman of the Freeway,” was visible for years to northbound motorists in downtown Los Angeles. It depicted a 30-foot Bronson standing ramrod straight and wrapped in an afghan.
Commissioned in 1974, it galvanized art lovers and preservationists when it was painted over in 1986. The outrage eventually led to an eleventh-hour legal settlement and a partial restoration effort begun in 1992 that is ongoing.
Twitchell said at the time that covering up the mural symbolized the dismissive way elderly people often are treated by society.
Bronson’s life work, however, occurred on the screen, where she played supporting character roles, generally as an elderly woman, with movie greats such as Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Ingrid Bergman, Betty Grable and Bing Crosby.
In 1947’s “The Hucksters,” Bronson played Clark Gable’s secretary. More recently, she played Fonzie’s motorcycle-riding grandmother on television’s “Happy Days.”
Bronson was born and raised in Lockport, N.Y., and studied acting at the University of Michigan. During the Depression, she and her sister started the Bronson Studio in New York City and designed toy animals that are still being made.
Bronson is survived by a niece, Dorothy Bronson Wicker. Her body was willed to the UC Irvine Medical School. Family and friends ask that in lieu of flowers, donations to complete the restoration of the Twitchell mural be made to the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, P.O. Box 86244, Los Angeles, CA 90086.