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Melody Patterson dies at 66; played Wrangler Jane in western sitcom 'F Troop'

Melody Patterson dies at 66; played Wrangler Jane in western sitcom 'F Troop'
Melody Patterson, right, with fellow "F Troop" cast members Forrest Tucker, left, Larry Storch and Ken Berry. Patterson, who played Wrangler Jane on the 1960s sitcom, has died at the age of 66. (ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images)

Actress Melody Patterson, who played the feisty cowgirl Wrangler Jane in the comic western sitcom "F Troop" in the mid-1960s, has died at a nursing home in Hollister, Mo. She was 66.

Patterson had multiple medical problems and died of natural causes Aug. 21, said Jason Bradley, owner of Cremations of the Ozarks in Hollister, a small town near Branson.

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Her role in "F Troop," which made its debut in 1965 and ran for two seasons on ABC, was her first as a professional actress. Patterson was the last of numerous actresses to audition for the part; she won it, she said, because of how well she worked with her love interest, played by Ken Berry.

"It was a magical chemistry between two people," she said in a 2001 interview with the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey.

One problem: Patterson was not quite 16 when she auditioned. She lied about her age, telling producers she would "be 18 on her next birthday and would therefore be out of school," according to a biographical essay on her now-defunct website. "Fortunately, the truth did not surface until she had filmed seven shows."

By then, Patterson was an integral part of the show about a bumbling Army troop stationed at a remote outpost. It also starred seasoned actors Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker.

Some of the show's dialogue had more than a hint of innuendo, but Patterson said it was never raunchy. "It was an innocent sexy," she said in the Asbury Park interview, citing one of Berry's lines when he warns her, "Janie, you'll bend my sword."

"Well," she said, "you know what guys are thinking."

Though she was the junior member of the cast, the veteran actors treated her well. "They were wonderful to me," she said. "I was the little baby."

Not that they spared her from some ribald, off-camera kidding. She said that Tucker, who called her "kid," began each week by asking her if she had had sex over the weekend. Many years later, Patterson recalled that her agent warned her that Howard Stern might try to embarrass her during an interview on his radio show.

"Bring him on," Patterson said. "Come on — Howard Stern is gonna make me nervous?"

Patterson was born April 16, 1949, in the Los Angeles area. She wrote and directed her first play at 5 and appeared in several stage productions before enrolling in the private Hollywood Professional School for ninth grade.

After "F Troop" ended, she appeared in a few other series, including "The Monkees" and "Green Acres." And she was in a few movies, mostly low-budget shockers such as "The Cycle Savages" (1969) and "Blood and Lace" (1971).

Her 1970 marriage to actor James MacArthur, who played "Danno" on the original "Hawaii Five-0," took her to the islands, where she appeared in three episodes of that TV show and in several stage productions, including August Strindberg's "Miss Julie."

When the marriage ended in divorce, she returned to the mainland and made numerous stage appearances. She married musician Vern Miller, who survives her.

In her online essay, Patterson called "F Troop" the "biggest thrill" of her career.

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Twitter: @davidcolker

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