I’m sad to have to report that Sally Kellerman, the beautiful, lanky actress with the smoky voice, died Thursday at 84 after a five-year battle with dementia.
She made her movie debut in 1957 in the crime drama “Reform School Girl,” and over her long career, appeared in many TV shows, movies and plays, from “That Girl” and “Star Trek” in the ‘60s through “Columbo,” “Evening Shade” and “Murder She Wrote,” all the way up to “The Young and the Restless,” for which she scored a Daytime Emmy nomination in 2015. Her movies included “The Player,” “Brewster McCloud,” “A Little Romance,” “The Boston Strangler” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.”
But of course, she will always be remembered for her two most famous roles: Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the original movie version of “M*A*S*H” and the teacher Rodney Dangerfield fell for in the classic comedy, “Back To School.” She said when fans saw her in public, they either yelled, “Hey, Hot Lips!” or Rodney’s famous pickup line, “Call me when you have no class!”
Since you count on me for the information other obituaries leave out, here are two cool stories about Sally Kellerman: She recalled being nervous about doing the famous nude scene in “M*A*S*H” where Hawkeye and Trapper dropped her shower tent as a prank. To help capture a genuine look of shock and surprise on her face, when the tent fell, Gary “Radar O’Reilly” Burghoff (the only actor to repeat his character on the TV series) was standing beside the camera, also naked.
Also, of special interest to me, since I co-wrote “Hollywood Hi-Fi,” the history of celebrity singer records (http://www.hollywoodhifi.com), is that Sally Kellerman was a terrific singer. That was her original ambition, and her smoky voice was so good, Norman Granz of the legendary jazz label Verve offered her a contract when she was only 18. But she was too young and lacking in self-confidence to sign. After establishing herself as an actress, she returned to singing in jazz clubs and cabarets and put out two albums, "Roll With the Feelin''' in 1972 and "Sally" in 2009. One of her biggest regrets was rejecting a role in a Robert Altman movie that later turned out to be "Nashville" and would've given her both a prestige role and a chance to sing on screen.
To show how good she was, here's 15 minutes of her cabaret act from 1977. RIP to a beautiful and talented lady.