Marcia Wallace, Simpsons Star and Off-Broadway Veteran, Dies at 70

Wallace began her career onstage before becoming a television star on ”The Bob Newhart Show”.

Marcia Wallace
Marcia Wallace
(© Alan Light)

Marcia Wallace, best known for her starring television roles as receptionist Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show and the voice of teacher Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, passed away at her Los Angeles home on Friday, October 25. She was seven days shy of her 71st birthday.

Before venturing into television, Wallace began her career in theater, doing summer stock, making regular appearances at a Greenwich Village nightclub, and performing off-Broadway with an improvisational group that she developed with her friends called The Fourth Wall. In 1970, after losing 100 pounds, she also appeared in a nude off-Broadway production of Dark of the Moon at the Mercer Arts Center. Her additional stage credits include a Los Angeles production of An Almost Perfect Person (which she also produced), a tour of the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, and productions of Same Time Next Year; Twigs; It Had to Be You; Supporting Cast; Prisoner of Second Avenue; Plaza Suite; Gypsy; Promises, Promises; Born Yesterday; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; Steel Magnolias; and Last of the Red Hot Lovers. She also performed in The Vagina Monologues in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, and in New York off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre.

Wallace became a semi-regular on The Merv Griffin Show and followed the program when it moved to Los Angeles in 1970. Television producer Grant Tinker then offered Wallace the supporting role of Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show, a part that was specifically designed for her. After The Bob Newhart Show ended its final season in 1978, Wallace went on to develop a career as a game-show panelist, appearing on a number of programs including Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, and The $25,000 Pyramid. She also made numerous guest appearances on television programs including ALF; Bewitched; Full House; Murphy Brown; The Brady Bunch; Charles in Charge; Murder, She Wrote; Magnum, P.I.; and A Different World, among others.

From 1990 until her death, Wallace lent her voice to the Simpsons character Edna Krabappel, for which she earned a 1992 Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance.

It is reported that Wallace died from complications relating to pneumonia, though her close friend Cathryn Michon, who cowrote and directed Wallace’s final film, Muffin Top, told Deadline Hollywood that her death was caused by “complications from breast cancer of which she was a long and proud survivor and advocate for women and healing.” Wallace was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, prompting her involvement in early-detection advocacy. In 2007, Roswell Park Cancer Institute presented her with the Gilda Radner Courage Award for her work in raising breast-cancer awareness.

Wallace is survived by her son, actor Mike Hawley, whom she adopted with her late husband, Dennis Hawley.