Bea Benaderet was a talented actress and comedienne who had a remarkable career in radio and television. She was best known for her roles as Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction, Blanche Morton in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and the voice of Betty Rubble in The Flintstones. However, her life was cut short by lung cancer, which she battled for over a year before succumbing to it in 1968. Here is a brief overview of her life, career, and cause of death.
Early Life and Career
Bea Benaderet was born on April 4, 1906, in New York City. Her parents were Samuel David Benaderet, a Turkish Sephardic immigrant who owned a tobacco shop, and Margaret O’Keefe, an Irish American. The family moved to San Francisco in 1915, where Bea attended a Dominican convent school and studied voice and piano.
She made her professional debut at the age of 16 in a production of The Prince of Pilsen, and joined the Reginald Travers School of Acting and his stock company The Players’ Guild. She performed in various stage plays, such as Polly, Lysistrata, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
She also began her career in radio, appearing on numerous programs as a voice actress and comedienne. She worked with famous personalities such as Orson Welles, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, and Lucille Ball. She specialized in dialects and characterizations, which led her to become Warner Bros.’ leading voice of female characters in their animated cartoons from the early 1940s to the mid-1950s. She voiced characters such as Granny, Tweety’s owner, Daisy Duck, Witch Hazel, and many more.
Bea Benaderet made a smooth transition from radio to television in the 1950s. She was cast as Blanche Morton, the neighbor and best friend of Gracie Allen, in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. She played this role from 1950 to 1958, earning two Emmy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
She was also offered the role of Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, but she had to decline due to her contract with Burns and Allen. The role went to Vivian Vance instead.
In 1960, she became the voice of Betty Rubble, the wife of Barney Rubble and the best friend of Wilma Flintstone, in The Flintstones. She voiced this character until 1964.
In 1962, she appeared as Cousin Pearl Bodine, the mother of Jethro Bodine, in The Beverly Hillbillies. She played this role until 1967.
In 1963, she landed her most famous role as Kate Bradley, the widowed owner of the Shady Rest Hotel and the mother of three daughters, in Petticoat Junction. She was the main star of the show and received top billing.
Lung Cancer Diagnosis and Death
During a routine checkup in 1963, a spot was discovered on one of Bea Benaderet’s lungs. It was no longer visible at the time of her follow-up visit, but by November 1967, it had returned and grown in size. She refused to have immediate surgery as she was filming the fifth season of Petticoat Junction at the time.
After completing the season, she underwent surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles in January 1968. A tumor was found that could not be removed. She was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent weeks of laser radiation treatment at Stanford University Medical Center.
Her treatment was successful and she returned to work on Petticoat Junction for the sixth season. However, her condition worsened and she had to leave the show after filming only five episodes. She was replaced by June Lockhart as Dr. Janet Craig.
She died on October 13, 1968, at Good Samaritan Hospital at the age of 62. Her husband of ten years, Eugene Twombly, died four days later from a massive heart attack. They were both cremated and their ashes were interred at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood.
Bea Benaderet was a versatile and talented performer who left behind a rich legacy of work in radio, television, and animation. She was praised for her comedic timing, her expressive voice, and her warm personality. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame honoring her work in television.
She is remembered by fans and colleagues as one of the pioneers of female comedy and one of the most beloved actresses of her generation. According to Newspapers.com, Lucille Ball said about her: “She was one of my dearest friends – one of those rare people who never said an unkind word about anyone.” According to IMDB, Paul Henning, the creator of Petticoat Junction, said: “She was a wonderful actress, a wonderful person, and a wonderful friend.”