When I was in college, 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman' was required viewing every single weekday. Luckily for me, as a drama department student I was able to adjust my schedule to watch it. (VCR? What's that? Video recorders were practically fantasy toys of the rich, as seen in the 'Columbo' episode, "Fade In To Murder".)
I've got the first four episodes plus the "chicken soup death" episode on a bootleg DVD, but if it came out on official boxed sets, I'd spring for all of the hundreds of episodes.
By the time I moved to NYC, the show was known as 'Forever Fernwood' and even without the participation of Louise Lasser, I was still a fervent fan. But then, WNYW-5 yanked it from their schedule where it was playing at 11 pm to replace it with 'Hogan's Heroes'.
I knew the show only had about two weeks tops to run anyway, but the MetroMedia station just couldn't wait to dump it. So I never saw it reached its natural end; the last image I saw was of Bob Truss about to inject my beloved Penny Major in the neck with some kind of syringe.
Someday I'll track down those final episodes of 'Forever Fernwood'.....
I bring all that up to show what a fan I was of the show. I used to follow the careers of any actors who appeared on it.
So it was a big shock as I rode the subway to work last night when I opened the collector's edition copy of the latest "Entertainment Weekly" (containing four covers of three cast members each from 'Lost'), to find a quick little blurb about the death of Susan Browning. She died of cancer at the age of 65.
On 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman', Ms. Browning played nurse Pat Gimble, abused wife of Garth Gimble who used to beat her horribly. Follow this link to see a picture of her in the role, taking that staple of soap opera characters to the brink of caricature.
I liked the character. A lot. There was just something so cute in Susan Browning's performance which I could see beyond the pathetic treatment Mrs. Gimble was receiving at the hands of her husband.
But she wasn't on the show for more than a year, quickly leaving the town of Fernwood, Ohio, after her husband Garth died. Drunk as usual, Garth stumbled backward into the hall closet where he was impaled on the fake Christmas tree that was stored in there. It was the second most memorable death scene on the show. (The first was of Coach Leroy Fedders drowning in a bowl of chicken soup, as mentioned above.)
Like I said, I was so into the show that I would explore the careers of the actors involved. And so I found out that Susan Browning was on the soundtrack album for 'Company', a Stephen Sondheim musical of which I would work on a summerstock production in 1977.
Looking through her TV credits (as seen below) and her movie credits as well, I've seen a lot of her performances since the days of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman'. But Time moves on, I found new characters and actors of interest, and never even noticed that she had been in all these roles which I had been watching.
But that 'MH, MH' moment is caught forever in the amber of my memory, and it was with great sadness to learn that she passed away.
Rest in peace, Ms. Browning. You'll live forever in Toobworld.
"One Life to Live" (1968) TV Series .... Sister Amelia (1989-1990)
"Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" (1976) TV Series .... Pat Gimble (1976-1977)
"Love Is a Many Splendored Thing" (1967) TV Series .... Nancy Garrison (1968-1969)
The Quinns (1977) (TV) .... Elizabeth Quinn
First Ladies Diaries: Martha Washington (1975) (TV) .... Martha Washington
TV GUEST APPEARANCES
"Law & Order"
- The Secret Sharers (1991) TV Episode .... Jury Forewoman
- Monkees on the Line (1967) TV Episode .... Ellen Farnsby
"The Girl from U.N.C.L.E."
- The Furnace Flats Affair (1967) TV Episode .... Ladybug Byrd
- A Penny Game, a Two-Bit Murder (1966) TV Episode .... Mary Corso
- Marriage Counselor (1966) TV Episode .... Evie Finger
"The Iron Horse"
- No Wedding Bells for Tony (1966) TV Episode .... Laura Farrow
"The Wild Wild West"
- The Night of the Druid's Blood (1966) TV Episode .... Nurse
The Nurse from 'The Wild, Wild West' could have been reincarnated as Pat Gimble in 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman' as they shared the same passion in their chosen profession.
Since the Jury Forewoman in the 'Law & Order' episode was not named, she could have been any of the modern day characters Ms. Browning played in the other shows. Most likely it would be Evie Finger, the character she played in that episode of Manhattan-set 'Occasional Wife'. But she also could be Pat Gimble, who might have moved to NYC after the death of Garth Gimble to start a new life.