Peggy Rea

d. February 5, 2011

Peggy Rea, character actress seen in countless television roles from 1950s westerns to 1990s sitcoms, died Feb. 5 from heart failure at her home in Toluca Lake, Calif. She was 89.

Rea was born in Los Angeles, attended UCLA and business school, and got a production secretary job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, working for famed musicals producer Arthur Freed.

She moved to New York in 1947 to become a stage actress, appearing in small productions before landing a role in the Cole Porter musical “Out of This World.” She was in a short-lived 1950 Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” — starring Anthony Quinn as Stanley Kowalski — that went on the road for more than two years.

After that tour, she broke into television. One of her earliest roles was as a nurse at the hospital where Lucy Ricardo had her baby in the famous Jan. 19, 1953, broadcast of I Love Lucy.

Rea returned to Los Angeles in the late 1950s and gave up acting for several years to work again as a production secretary at CBS, on network-produced series such as Gunsmoke and Have Gun–Will Travel. When she returned to acting in 1961, some of her first roles were on those series. At the same time, she became casting director for Have Gun–Will Travel during its last two seasons.

She went on to an endless run of supporting roles — jolly neighbors, maiden aunts, concerned nurses, efficient secretaries, flummoxed tourists — in episodes of Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, Hazel, The Eleventh Hour, Ben Casey, Kraft Suspense Theatre, The Patty Duke Show, Gidget, Family Affair, Run Buddy Run, Ironside, Marcus Welby M.D., Mannix, The Odd Couple, All in the Family, Maude, Charlie’s Angels and many more.

Rea played a devout follower of Brother Love, the phony evangelist secretly working for Thrush in “The Love Affair,” an early episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. She was a patron of a swanky health spa who discovers a dead body in the mud baths in “Who Killed the Eleventh Best Dressed Woman in the World?” on Burke’s Law. She was also the plump wife of an Indian chief in “The Night of the Green Terror” on The Wild Wild West; an Eastern European cleaning woman in Mission: Impossible; a chatty pay-phone user in It Takes a Thief; and Sergeant Velie’s wife in the 1975 premiere of Ellery Queen. In 1972, she had an uncredited bit part in the famous TV-movie “The Night Stalker,” playing a switchboard operator who’s one of reporter Carl Kolchak’s sources of information.

Her film roles included “The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao” (1964), “Walk, Don’t Run” (1966), “Valley of the Dolls” (1967), “Cold Turkey” (1971) and “What’s the Matter with Helen?” (1971).

Rea had running parts in five series, the first with legendary comic Red Skelton. After CBS cancelled his long-running show, Skelton did a half-hour sketch-comedy series on NBC during the 1970-71 season, with Rea as part of a regular troupe of players.

In 1979, Michael Learned let the producers of The Waltons know that seven years of playing Mama Olivia Walton was enough. Olivia developed tuberculosis to explain Learned’s absence, and Rea arrived as Olivia’s cousin Rose to take charge of the household during the show’s last two seasons.

Also starting in 1979, Rea had a recurring role throughout the seven-season run of The Dukes of Hazzard as Lulu Hogg, wife of the Duke boys’ nemesis Boss Hogg.

In 1991 and 1992, Rea was a regular in the first season of Step by Step, the dim Patrick Duffy-Suzanne Somers sitcom that somehow went on to a seven-year run. She then spent several seasons on Grace Under Fire as the former mother-in-law of the blunt, disagreeable Grace, played by the blunt, disagreeable Brett Butler.


Peggy Rea in her most familiar role as Cousin Rose on “The Waltons.”

Below: Peggy Rea, center, with Maggie Pierce and Robert Vaughn in an episode of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”