Mary Frann, the actress best remembered as Bob Newhart's sweet, sweater-clad wife Joanna Loudon in the long-running "Newhart" television series, has died. She was 55.
Frann died in her sleep early Wednesday at her Beverly Hills home, apparently of heart failure, said her publicist, Jeffrey Lane. He said Frann's body was discovered by her longtime companion, Jonathan Cookson.
Lane said the actress had not been ill and in fact had worked Tuesday night as a volunteer at the Los Angeles Mission, where she and other entertainers had formed the Celebrity Action Council to assist homeless women.
The popular "Newhart" series, set in the colonial Stratford Inn, which the expatriate New Yorker Loudons had purchased in Norwich, Vt., ran on CBS from Oct. 25, 1982, to Sept. 8, 1990.
When it ended, Frann quickly switched types to portray the sultry Clementine Duke in the steamy 1990 miniseries "Jackie Collins' Lucky/Chances." As for her fans' raised eyebrows, Frann told The Times, almost with a giggle, that she wanted to do "something that would surprise people."
"I thought it would be outrageous, flamboyant, glamorous," she said of the 1930s seductive socialite assignment. "I wanted to remind people that I was capable of playing many different roles."
Frann also appeared as the supportive wife and mother Nan Hollister in the short-lived 1982 ABC television series "King's Crossing."
She was a popular television hostess for New York's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Pasadena's Rose Parade and the Houston Cotton Bowl Parade. Calling on personal experience as a Junior Miss national finalist, Frann also hosted televised beauty pageants, including America's Junior Miss, Miss Universe and Miss USA.
She was a veteran of daytime soap operas, starring in NBC's "Return to Peyton Place" and for four years playing Amanda Peters on that network's "Days of Our Lives." She had roles in several television films and specials.
Born Mary Luecke in St. Louis, Frann began her career as a child model, moved into live television commercials for a local station, and performed in improvisational musical comedy revues at the Crystal Palace.
She studied drama for two years at Northwestern University on an America's Junior Miss scholarship and for four years hosted the morning show at Chicago's ABC television affiliate.
On stage, Frann worked with Gateway Repertory Theatre in St. Louis and the Drury Lane Theatre and Pheasant Run Theatre in the Chicago area. In Los Angeles, she appeared at the Mark Taper Forum in "An Evening of Twelve One Acts by New American Playwrights," "Line" and "Story Theater." Most recently, she starred in A.R. Gurney's two-person "Love Letters" at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Frann had lived in the Los Angeles area since 1969, when she moved here to appear in the ABC television series "My Friend Tony."