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June 3, 2021

We’ve lost another of those beloved, omnipresent actors that generations of Americans grew up watching on TV. Arlene Golonka died Monday in West Hollywood at 85 after a long struggle with Alzheimers.

The bubbly blonde comic actress was best known as bakery shop clerk Millie Swanson, Ken Berry’s girlfriend on “Mayberry RFD” (she’d earlier appeared on “The Andy Griffith Show” as the same character, only named Millie Hutchins, who was engaged to stuffy county clerk Howard Sprague until they realized they had nothing in common and broke up.) But that was only the most famous of her countless roles.

After working on stage, the Chicago-born actress moved to Los Angeles, and was soon making appearances on virtually every TV show of the ‘60s and ‘70s, from the early days of “Naked City” and “Car 54, Where Are You?” through “That Girl,” “The Flying Nun” and “Get Smart,” and post-“Mayberry,” in “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “The Love Boat,” “Matlock,” “Murder She Wrote” and many more.

She also made a number of movie appearances, including “Hang ‘Em High,” “Airport ’77,” “The In-Laws” (hilarious, you should see it), “Love At First Bite” and “The Age of Innocence.” Her last TV appearance was in “The King of Queens” in 2005. By that time, she was mostly retired from the screen and teaching acting.

Arlene Golonka brightened every show she appeared in for many years. Fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” who have seen all the reruns a million times might want to check out the spin-off, “Mayberry RFD,” that was killed by CBS’ “rural purge” while it was still a hit, but it’s very hard to find. There is no DVD box set, and at the moment, it doesn’t appear to be on any streaming services. However, I recently watched all the episodes, in varying quality, on the video streaming site, so give it a try. You might find it relaxing, in this trying age, to spend a little time with Sam, Millie, Howard, Emmitt and Goober.

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