MASH Oscar-nominated actress Sally Kellerman dies at 84
Sally Kellerman, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actress who played Margaret Hot Lips Houlihan in director Robert Altman’s 1970 film MASH, died on Thursday. Kellerman died of heart failure at her home in the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles, her manager and publicist Alan Eichler said. She was 84 years old.
Kellerman had a career spanning over 60 years in film and television. She played a college professor who returned student love interest Rodney Dangerfield in the 1986 comedy Back to School. And she was a regular in Altman films, appearing in 1970s Brewster McCloud, 1992’s The Player and 1994’s Ready to Wear.
But she will always be best known for playing Major Houlihan, a good-natured army nurse who is tormented by rowdy doctors during the Korean War in the military comedy MASH.
In the film’s key scene, and its culminating moment of misogyny, a tent where Houlihan takes her shower is opened and she is exposed to an audience of cheering men.
“It’s not a hospital, it’s an insane asylum!” she shouts to her commander.
She has a torrid affair with the equally tense Major Frank Burns, played by Robert Duvall, demanding that he kiss her “on the hot lips” in a moment secretly played over the camp loudspeakers, which earns her the surname.
Kellerman said Altman brought out the best in her.
“It was a very liberating and positive experience,” she told Dick Cavett in a television interview in 1970. “For the first time in my life I took risks, I didn’t suck my play or worry about anything.”
The film was nominated for five Oscars, but its best supporting actress was its only wink despite a cast that included Duvall, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould.
The film would be made into a television series that ran for 11 seasons, starring Loretta Swit as Kellerman.
Sally Clare Kellerman was born in 1937 in Long Beach, California, the daughter of a piano teacher and an oil executive, moving to Los Angeles as a child and attending Hollywood High School.
Her initial interest was jazz singing and she signed a contract with Verve Records at the age of 18. She chose to become an actress and didn’t release music until 1972, when she released the album “Roll With the Feeling”. She would sing on the side, and occasionally in roles, throughout her career, releasing her last album, “Sally”, in 2007.
She took an acting class at Los Angeles City College and appeared in a stage production of Look Back in Anger with classmate Jack Nicholson and several other future stars.
She worked primarily in television early in her career, with a starring role in 1962’s Cheyenne and guest appearances on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Bonanza.
Her appearance in the original Star Trek pilot as Dr. Elizabeth Dehner earned her cult status among fans.
She would work primarily in film in the years following MASH, including 1972’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers and 1975’s Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins, both starring Alan Arkin, 1973’s Slither starring James Caan, A 1979’s Little Romance with Laurence Olivier and 1980’s Foxes with Jodie Foster.
She would work into her 80s, with several acclaimed television performances during her later years.
She starred in the comedy series Decker with Tim Heidecker and played comedian Mark Maron’s mother in his series Maron.
“Sally Kellerman was radiant and beautiful and fun and so lovely to work with,” Maron tweeted Thursday. “My real mom was very flattered and a little jealous. I’m sad she’s gone.
Me and Sally. TEAR pic.twitter.com/ua8YncDNT8
— marc maron (@marcmaron) February 25, 2022
And in 2014, she was nominated for an Emmy for her recurring role on The Young and the Restless.
Kellerman was married to television producer Rick Edelstein from 1970 to 1972 and film producer Jonathan D. Krane from 1980 until his death in 2016.
She is survived by her son Jack and her daughter Claire.
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