As we continue getting to know several of the panelists from To Tell The Truth, today we look at the career of Peggy Cass.
Mary Margaret Cass was born in 1924 in Boston. She attended Cambridge Latin School and after graduation became interested in acting. She joined the HB Studio in New York City, probably about the same time Orson Bean was there.
In New York, she was employed in various positions while waiting for her big break, including secretary, telephone operator, advertising solicitor, and model. She traveled to Australia with the USO for seven months. Her first role was in a traveling production of “Born Yesterday” where she was an understudy to Jan Sterling.
Cass married Carl Fisher in 1948; they divorced in 1965.
Peggy’s Broadway debut came for “Touch and Go” in 1949. One of her next shows was Agnes Gooch in “Auntie Mame” (based on a book written by Patrick Dennis) which she won a Tony for. She was cast in “A Thurber Carnival,” a 1960 Broadway revue of James Thurber’s works.
She also tried her hand at movies. Her first movie was 1951’s The Marrying Kind. In 1958 she reprised her role as Agnes in Auntie Mame, receiving an Oscar nomination, 1961 found her in Gidget Goes Hawaiian. She would be cast in three movies in 1969 and 1970.
Cass accepted her first television role in a show I’ve never heard of in 1950: Nash Airflyte Theater. In addition to playhouse dramas, she was on The Phil Silver Show in 1958 and 1959. In 1961 she was a regular on The Hathaways, a show we discussed a few months ago. Cass as Elinor raised three monkeys (The Marquis Chimps) along with her husband (Jack Weston); the monkeys were stars, and Elinor was also their agent. After 26 episodes, the show was canceled.
After the cancellation, she would take roles in thirteen other television shows including Love American Style, The Love Boat, and Hotel. In two of the shows, she had regular roles: The Doctors with 145 episodes, an afternoon soap opera; and Women in Prison. This is another show I have never heard of; it was set in my home state. The synopsis on imdb lists it as a “comedy taking place in Cell Block J of the Bass Women’s Prison in Wisconsin. Some of the inmates are Vicki, a yuppie housewife framed for shoplifting by her husband; Dawn, who murdered her husband; Bonnie, an English prostitute; Eve, the old lady who has been there for at least 10 years; and Pam, serving time for computer crimes. Meg is the guard and Blake is the assistant warden. Cass played Eve.
Cass was also in the pilot of Major Dad. She played Esther Nettleton a secretary working for Major MacGillis.
Cass appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in 86 episodes as one of his regular cast members. She also appeared on The Mike Douglas Show ten times and on The Merv Griffith Show 26 times.
I guess the reason I recognize her as a game show celebrity is because she was on 21 different game shows. I remember her best from To Tell the Truth which is also not a surprise because if you count episodes of the various versions, she appeared in 481 episodes.
Cass remarried late in life in 1980. Her second husband was Eugene Feeney. He was a former Jesuit priest and educator. That same year she had an interesting experience we all think about but don’t think really happens much. She needed a left-knee operation and engaged the services of Dr. Norman Scott, doctor for the New York Knicks. After the operation, while Cass was in the recovery room, she realized they had operated on her right knee, and they had to take her back in for a second surgery.
In 1999 Cass died from heart failure.
I have to admit Cass’s role as Agnes Gooch is one of my favorite supporting actress roles. I’m not sure what her hopes and dreams were. I wish she had been cast in a second sitcom; it might have changed the trajectory of her career drastically. It was fun to learn a bit more about the woman behind Agnes.