Gretchen Wyler
Gretchen Wyler
Gretchen Wyler, a popular stage and screen actress for more than 50 years and one of the country's foremost animal rights activists, died on May 27 in Camarillo, California of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

Born Gretchen Weinecke in Bartlesville, Oklahoma on February 15, 1932, the young dancer-actress first landed on Broadwaay in 1951 in Where's Charley?, later appearing in Guys and Dolls as a member of the ensemble and understudy for the role of Miss Adelaide. In 1955, she played Janice Dayton in Silk Stockings, Cole Porter's musical version of Ninotchka, winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actress. Like all of the show's leads, she was replaced when Hollywood filmed the musical; her role was played by Janis Paige.

She returned to Broadway twice in 1957, first replacing Gwen Verdon as Lola in Damn Yankees and then co-starring in the short-lived musical Rumple. In 1961, she replaced Chita Rivera as Rose in Bye Bye Birdie. Wyler made her final Broadway appearance in 1976 as Miss Fancy in Sly Fox, earning a Drama Desk nomination. She retired from the stage in 1997 after starring in Hello, Dolly! at the St. Louis Municipal Opera.

Wyler worked steadily in film and television, primarily in supporting and guest roles, throughout her career. Her many credits include Somerset, Private Benjamin, On Our Own, Dallas, Friends, and Judging Amy.

A longtime animal activist, Wyler was the first woman to join the Board of the Directors of the ASPCA and later formed The Ark Trust. That organization, devoted to protecting animals, eventually merged with the Humane Society, and Wyler served as Vice President.

She is survived by two siblings, Peggy Hanson and Lou Weinecke.