Jayne Meadows, actress and chatty wife of Steve Allen, dies at 95

Jayne Meadows with husband Steve Allen at their Encino home in 1995. They met on the "I've Got a Secret" game show.
Jayne Meadows with husband Steve Allen at their Encino home in 1995. They met on the “I’ve Got a Secret” game show.
(Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times)

Jayne Meadows, an actress known for her repartee with husband Steve Allen as well as her television, film and stage roles, died Sunday night at her home in Encino. She was 95.

Meadows died of natural causes, according to her son, Bill Allen.

In 1952, Meadows was a broke, newly divorced film actress when she got a job she didn’t really want. It ended up making her a household name.

On the TV game show “I’ve Got a Secret,” Meadows joined a panel of four celebrities tasked with guessing a funny or embarrassing hidden fact about guests. Throughout the 1950s it was one of the highest-rated shows in the fast-growing television medium.


“The thing that made me a name in television was not acting — it was that show,” Meadows recalled later. Her work on “I’ve Got a Secret” also introduced her to the man who became her second husband, host Steve Allen, later the first host of NBC’s “Tonight Show.” Until his death in 2000, the pair were one of the most recognizable performing couples in Hollywood.

Long after ending her run on “I’ve Got a Secret,” she kept hunting for film and TV roles, occasionally landing some that earned her attention. Younger filmgoers may recall her as Billy Crystal’s mother in “City Slickers.” She also had a regular role as a nurse on the 1970s drama “Medical Center.”

She was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards: for a 1978 performance on “Meeting of Minds,” for her 1987 guest role on “St. Elsewhere” and for her 1996 supporting role on “High Society.”

But her longest-running role was as part of a celebrity couple representing the virtues of comfortable domestic life amid the chaotic swirl of show business. Meadows assumed the part of the chatty, fashionable partner to Allen’s absent-minded egghead.

During a 1981 joint interview, a reporter asked if Meadows had felt a recent minor earthquake in Los Angeles. She replied that her husband had but she had not.

“She was talking at the time,” Allen deadpanned.

Jayne Meadows Cotter was born Sept. 27, 1919, in Wuchang, China, to parents serving as Episcopal missionaries. The family moved back to the United States when she was 8, and she grew up in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Her sister Audrey Meadows also found fame as an actress: She played Alice Kramden on “The Honeymooners.”


In addition to her son, Bill, Jayne Meadows is survived by three grandchildren.

A full obituary will follow at

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