Marian Mercer dies at 75; actress known for comedic flair

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Marian Mercer, a Tony-winning actress with a gift for comedy who was best known during a five-decade career for her television and stage work, which included a long-running performance in the 1969 Broadway hit “Promises, Promises,” died April 27 in Newbury Park. She was 75.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said her husband, Patrick Hogan.

Mercer won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for “Promises, Promises,” the Neil Simon musical remake of the movie “The Apartment,” about sex in the big city. Critics said she was a standout in the small role of Marge MacDougall, particularly in her rendition with Jerry Orbach of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David number “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing.”

She was “a tiny-voiced hustler with a heart as big as a saloon,” the New York Times review said of Mercer’s contribution to the show, which ran for 1,281 performances.

Mercer also won plaudits for the 1978 revival of “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” in which she portrayed the various girlfriends of the success-hungry hero, played by Sammy Davis Jr.

The blond, statuesque actress appeared frequently in repertory, including at the Mark Taper Forum, where she took on more substantial roles in such works as “Twelfth Night” and “Chekhov in Yalta.”

In a 1999 La Mirada Theatre production of D.L. Coburn’s tragicomic “The Gin Game,” the Los Angeles Times said Mercer was “a fluttering, twittering delight” as a gin rummy novice at a run-down nursing home who aggravates Ralph Waite’s character with a miraculous winning streak.

Her comic flair brought her steady work in television, including regular appearances on variety shows starring Andy Williams, Dom DeLuise, Jonathan Winters and Dean Martin. She played Nancy Beebe, the stern hostess of a ritzy Los Angeles restaurant, in the sitcom “It’s a Living,” which ran on ABC from 1980 to 1982 and in syndication under the title “Making a Living” from 1985 to 1989. Other popular shows on which she had roles included “St. Elsewhere,” “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” and “Love, American Style.”

Mercer, one of five children of a Firestone tire plant supervisor, was born Nov. 26, 1935, in Akron, Ohio. After earning a degree in music at the University of Michigan in 1957, she made her stage debut in a production of “The Happiest Millionaire” at the Palmtree Playhouse in Sarasota, Fla.

In 1960 she made her Broadway debut in a singing ensemble in Frank Loesser’s “Greenwillow.” The next year she took over the title role in an off-Broadway production of the musical parody “Little Mary Sunshine.”

“She was lovely, crazy but lovely,” said Martin Gage, who met her on an audition for “Little Mary Sunshine” and later was her manager and agent. “She could take a part that had been done before and make it a laugh riot.”

Mercer lived in Agoura Hills with Hogan, her husband of 31 years. She is also survived by a daughter, Deirdre Whitaker, of Seattle. Her first marriage, to Martin Cassidy, ended in divorce.