We are devoting this month to some of our favorite television actresses. If you ever watched Green Acres, you will have fond memories of Ralph Monroe, played by Mary Grace Canfield.
Canfield was born in Rochester, NY in 1924. In her late twenties, she began acting with regional theater companies. She appeared in a few Broadway plays, but they were not big successes. In 1950 she married Charles Carey Jr, but they divorced five years later.
While she continued to appear on stage until 1964, she tried her hand on television in 1954 on an episode of Goodyear Playhouse.
During the fifties, Canfield continued appearing in a variety of televised drama series and several big-screen movies, including Pollyanna.
From 1961-62 she was part of the cast of The Hathaways. She played Amanda Allison, the housekeeper, on the show. Starring Peggy Cass and Jack Weston, the series was about a couple who were raising three chimps: Candy, Charlie, and Enoch.
During the early sixties, Canfield appeared on many of our favorite shows including Hazel, The Interns, The Andy Griffith Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Farmer’s Daughter, and General Hospital. Mary Grace showed up on Bewitched as Harriet Kravitz, Abner’s sister.
From 1965-71, she played Ralph Monroe, handyman to her brother Alf on Green Acres. Canfield appeared in forty of the episodes of the show’s run. Ralph always showed up in bib overalls with her baseball cap on backwards, a somewhat better carpenter than her inept brother. The brother and sister team could not finish a project on time or in an acceptable condition. In one episode, Lisa gave her a makeover. In later shows, Ralph admits she is in love with farm agent Hank Kimble.
In a 2006 interview in the Bangor Daily News, she said she felt a bit bad about being remembered for Ralph, not because she didn’t appreciate the character but “only in the sense that it was so easy and undemanding. It’s being known for something easy to do instead of something you worked hard to achieve.”
In the seventies and eighties, Mary Grace made a handful of appearances on shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, Family, and Cagney and Lacey.
About this time, she moved to Sedgwick, Maine which she fell in love with while performing in the area. Surprisingly, after more than three decades of being single, Canfield tried marriage again when she wed John Theodore Bischof; they were together until she passed away from lung cancer at age 89. Canfield had to move back to California when her health became an issue.
Although I tried, I could not find much information about Mary Grace which made me sad. I could not learn anything about her personal life other than that she had two children, so I don’t know what her hobbies were, what dreams she did not achieve in her career, or what her favorite role was. I would have loved to have seen Canfield get a part in another sitcom after life on Green Acres. However, I thoroughly enjoyed Green Acres and part of that enjoyment came from the quirky but lovable characters who inhabited Hooterville. Ralph Monroe was one of the best.
6 thoughts on “Mary Grace Canfield Nails Her Performance”
Interesting article. I kind of feel bad that she thought she was remembered for what she viewed as an easy and undemanding character. I’d guess that it was easy because of how good she was at acting instead of the role just being easy. I also wonder what the mindset switch is like for someone who had gotten use to being more of a guest appearance actress like you sort of mentioned in the early 60s to the switch of being a main part of a show when Green Acres started in ’65.
That’s true. I also wonder how people feel about past characters. I remember listening to an interview with Anne Morgan Guilbert who played Millie Helper on The Dick Van Dyke show. She said she didn’t even remember making those shows and this interview was not when she was a very old woman, but it was probably 1980s. I thought it was sad because that show gave me such great memories.
Green Acres seems like it was a good show and it sounds like she played an important part in that. I will always remember Green Acres for the cookie jar though!
I did love that cookie jar!
A favorite character from a great show. She had that deadpan delivery perfect for the humorously unfeminine character of “Ralph.”
The older I get, the more I appreciate this show.