Mary Fickett, a New York actress whose career spanned 50 years of radio, television, stage and movies, died Thursday at her home in Callao in Northumberland County. She was 83.
For nearly 30 years, Fickett was loved and admired by millions of people as the good, compassionate nurse Ruth Parker Brent Martin on the daytime TV drama "All My Children." She appeared in the first episode of the show in 1970 and made her last appearance in 2000.
At the height of the Vietnam War in the show's 1972-73 season, Fickett delivered a touching monologue expressing her character's doubts about the war and fears about her drafted son.
Ruth's speech resonated with millions of viewers across America with the same doubts and fears. It also won Fickett an Emmy in 1973, the first ever awarded to a performer in a daytime drama.
With Ruth and her doctor husband as the drama's tent-pole characters, "All My Children" became the top-rated daytime TV drama in 1978. Ray MacDonnell played the role of Dr. Joe Martin, Fickett's TV husband.
Fickett "never really acted," MacDonnell said in 2008. "She was just a wonderful human being and a delight to work with. She was very bright and always cheerful and inspired natural emotions in me and her fellow actors."
ABC plans to dedicate the Sept. 21 episode of "All My Children" to Fickett. The show's network run ends Sept. 23.
Fickett's show-business career began in New York at the side of her father, Homer Fickett, a leading producer of radio and television shows in the 1940s and early 1950s. Reared in the fashionable Westchester County suburb of Bronxville, she attended Wheaton College and then enrolled in the Neighborhood Playhouse, a famous acting school run by Sanford Meisner.
Her Broadway debut occurred in 1949 in "I Know My Love," a comedy starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
In 1955 she received a Theatre World Award for her performance in "Tea and Sympathy" with Anthony Perkins and Joan Fontaine. In 1958 she was nominated for a Tony for her role as Eleanor Roosevelt opposite Ralph Bellamy's FDR in "Sunrise at Campobello."
In her many other stage, screen and TV roles, she worked with other famous performers such as John Forsythe, Beatrice Arthur, Michael Dreyfuss, Brian Keith, Robert Culp, Jack Klugman, Bing Crosby, Dan Duryea, Ossie Davis and Hal Holbrook.
From 1961 until 1963 she joined Harry Reasoner as co-host of a new CBS morning show called "Calendar." The New York Times called it "a delightful oasis of fun and intelligence."
"I cut many a swath," Fickett said in 2008 from her bed at her daughter's home in Colonial Beach.
"I'm a little bit on hold. I'm not quite with it," she said. "It's amazing how much of your persona gets eaten up by time."
Fickett's marriages to James R.W. Congdon and Jay Leonard Scheer ended in divorce. In 1979 she married soap-opera director Allen Fristoe, who died in 2008.
Fickett is survived by her daughter Bronwyn "Anne" Congdon of Callao, her son Kenyon Stewart Congdon of Apopka, Fla., eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A private service is planned.
Born: 5/23/1928, Bronxville, New York, U.S.A.
Died: 9/8/2011, Colonial Beach, Virginia, U.S.A.
Mary Fickett's westerns - actress:
Have Gun - Will Travel (TV) - 1961 (Adella Forsythe)
Lancer (TV) - 1968, 1970 (Mollie Poe, Aggie)
Bonanza (TV) - 1969 (Erin O’Donnell)
Daniel Boone (TV) - 1969 (Hannah