My Lunch With Georgia Engel'
Sad news: Georgus Engel died Friday at the age of 70 in Princeton, N.J. I had the privilege of having a lunch interview with her for The Hartford Courant in 2008 when she was touring in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” John Quilty, Engel’s friend and executor, told the The New York Times that the cause of death is unknown, as Engel was a Christian Scientist who did not consult doctors.
BY FRANK RIZZO
"Oh, what a lovely Cobb salad," says Georgia Engel with a burst of delight, as if the chef has created an original dish just for her.
This everyday small pleasure is just one of the disarming qualities of the actress, who first emerged to nationwide audiences in 1973 as Georgette, the girlfriend-turned-wife of vainglorious anchorman Ted Baxter in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," continuing as the memorably named Shirley Burleigh in "Coach" and returning again as brother Robert's mother-in-law who wears her faith gently on her sleeve in "Everybody Loves Raymond."
After sharing a meal over an interview, you're reminded of an episode of "Raymond" in which the wiseguy, cynical journalist played by Ray Romano finds himself opening up to the church-loving, sweet-natured, too-good-to-be-true character played by Engel.
There's something about the actor and her positive persona that makes a guy in search of an edge, an angle and a story to be, well, nice, too.
Engel is playing a role she created for Broadway as the ditzy and thoroughly lovable society matron Mrs. Tottendale in the touring musical "The Drowsy Chaperone," which begins a one-week run Tuesday at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.
Like her characters, the 59-year-old actress indeed is soft-spoken (though she is weary and resigned to her voice being the focal point of every article about her), wide-eyed and impeccably polite. But she is no naif. In talking about a career, it is also clear that she is a seasoned pro, grounded in her Christian Scientist faith and rooted in the realities of a sometimes harsh business.
She gives a petite laugh when it is mentioned how centered and savvy her many characters have turned out to be, despite the first impression that they might be too innocent, vulnerable or dumb.