PASSINGS: Sheila MacRae, Hank Rieger, Robert Ashley


Sheila MacRae

Actress-singer was on ‘60s ‘Honeymooners’

Sheila MacRae, 92, a versatile actress and singer who performed in a popular 1950s nightclub act with her husband, Gordon MacRae, and appeared opposite Jackie Gleason in his late ‘60s revival of “The Honeymooners,” died Thursday night at the Lillian Booth Actors Home of the Actors Fund in Englewood, N.J. She had undergone surgery a few weeks ago and had apparently been recovering well until this week, said her daughter, actress Heather MacRae.


Sheila MacRae: An obituary in the March 9 California section of actress Sheila MacRae, who played Alice Kramden in the late-1960s TV revival of “The Honeymooners,” said Audrey Meadows originated the role. Actress Pert Kelton was the first to play Alice opposite Jackie Gleason’s Ralph. —

Throughout the ‘50s, MacRae and her husband, a baritone who starred in the movie musicals “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” entertained audiences in ritzy venues such as Manhattan, Las Vegas and Los Angeles and on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and other television variety programs. They sang solo and in duets, and she impersonated celebrities in sketch comedy scenes.

MacRae assumed the role of Alice Kramden, wife of Gleason’s bus-driver character Ralph in “The Honeymooners” sketches, on the comic’s hit CBS-TV comedy-variety show in 1966. Audrey Meadows originated the role in 1952.

She was born Sheila Stephens in Middlesex County, England, on Sept. 24, 1921, said her daughter. In the early days of World War II, she immigrated to the United States with her family and they settled on New York’s Long Island. She got her first taste of acting at the Millpond Playhouse in Roslyn, N.Y.

She married Gordon MacRae in 1941 and they had four children — Meredith, Heather, Gar and Robert Bruce — before divorcing in 1967. Gordon MacRae died in 1986.

A second marriage to producer Ronald Wayne ended in divorce. Her daughter Meredith, an actress who played Billie Jo on the ‘60s TV sitcom “Petticoat Junction,” died in 2000. Her son Bruce died in 2010.

MacRae made many TV guest appearances including variety and game shows like “What’s My Line?” and “The Hollywood Squares” in the ‘60s and the weekly series “Parenthood” and “Murder, She Wrote” in the ‘90s. She also had some film roles and acted in stage productions.

Hank Rieger

Longtime NBC press representative

Hank Rieger, 95, a longtime NBC press representative who also served as the first elected president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died Wednesday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in Oceanside, Calif., according to his niece Julie Burns.

Beginning in 1965 he spent nearly 15 years as head of West Coast press and publicity for NBC, working on shows such as “Bonanza,” “Star Trek” and “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” Back then, a network-assigned publicist would be almost solely in charge of press for a show. But as time went on, the profession got crowded. “We would hear from the production publicist, the personal publicist, sometimes the agency might have a publicist,” Rieger said in a video-taped history done by the academy. “We got to the point where we’d have a convention of publicists covering a show.”

In 1977, he began serving the first of two terms as president of the academy after the organization’s split of its East and West Coast chapters. He was also the founding publisher of the academy’s Emmy magazine. In 1979 he left NBC to form his own publicity and consulting company, which had ESPN as a longtime client.

Henry Rieger was born Sept. 20, 1918, in Kansas City, Mo. He served in the Army during World War II in the Pacific.

Before getting into PR, he worked as a journalist at the United Press International bureau in Los Angeles when it was in fervent competition with the Associated Press. One of Rieger’s claims to fame was that he got the tip in 1962 that Marilyn Monroe had died. “We beat the tail off AP on that one,” he said.

Robert Ashley

Avant-garde composer

Robert Ashley, an experimental composer who produced avant-garde operas including “Perfect Lives” and “Crash,” which is to be performed at next month’s Whitney Biennial in New York, died Monday, according to an announcement on his website. Ashley, a longtime resident of New York, was 83.

Times staff reports