The beloved character actress Kathleen Freeman died last August but her spirit lives on in the form of a young, beautiful tree on "Restaurant Row" in Manhattan.
According to Wayne Wolfe--a press representative for The Full Monty, the Broadway musical in which Freeman was co-starring when she succumbed to cancer--this particular type of memorial is wonderfully appropriate for the actress. "Kathleen always used to tell everyone that she missed the trees back home in L.A.," says Wolfe. "She loved to go to parks in New York to get away from the cement for a while, and she always said that she wished there were more trees in the city." After her death, the Monty cast and crew got together and decided to plant a new tree in Freeman's memory. "They put together a fund over at the theater and everyone chipped in," says Wolfe. "They planted the tree and they found an ironworker to make the plaque and the fence around it."
The tree is already standing and flourishing in front of a parking lot in the middle of the block on the north side of West 46th Street between Eight and Ninth avenues, but its official dedication will take place on August 23--the one-year anniversary of Freeman's passing. Monty's Annie Golden told Wolfe that there will be a ceremony involving cast members and others, with the exact time and further details yet to be announced.
Though a stage veteran, Freeman was more widely known for her appearances in such films as Singin' in the Rain, North to Alaska, Far Country, The Disorderly Orderly, Hocus Pocus, and The Blues Brothers, as well as her work on television in Topper, Hogan's Heroes, The Lucille Ball Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Hogan Family, Coach, L.A. Law, etc. She received a Tony nomination for her performance in The Full Monty as Jeanette Burmeister, the crotchety but warm-hearted rehearsal pianist for a bunch of laid-off Buffalo metalworkers who decide to put on a strip show in order to raise money to keep the wolf away from their respective doors.
In an October 27, 2000 review of the show for TheaterMania, Barbara & Scott Siegel wrote that Freeman exhibited "old-time showbiz flair" in the show. And in a contemporaneous TheaterMania interview, Freeman told Ricky Spears that Monty had been embraced by audiences because "it's a story about real people--not on Wall Street, not wealthy and fancy and all these things, but just regular folks. We haven't seen that in a long time."