R.I.P. Georgia Engel, the adorable Georgette Franklin Baxter of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Image: The Everett Collection
In 1969, Georgia Engel, a fresh-out-of-college, barely in her 20s theater major from the University of Hawaii moved to New York City for her big break. A couple years later, she landed in an Off-Broadway production of a black comedy about a songwriting zookeeper called The House of Blue Leaves. It paid a dollar less than unemployment. And then the theater burned down. But that turned out to be a stroke of luck.
The production moved to Los Angeles. One evening, Mary Tyler Moore and her producer husband Grant Tinker saw the play. More importantly, the couple discovered Georgia Engel. At the end of 1972, a week before Christmas, Engel made her debut on The Mary Tyler Moore Show as Georgette Franklin, a window dresser at Hemphill's Department Store like Rhoda Morgenstern. The episode was "Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis to New York," the one in which Rhoda (Valerie Harper) takes a job in the Big Apple. As Harper was preparing to star in her own spin-off, Rhoda, Engel stepped in to provide an entirely different character in the ensemble.
The sweet and ditzy Georgia, with her flipped-out blonde hair and round cheekbones, became a love interest for the bull-headed Ted Baxter. They made a perfect TV couple. The two would finally marry in the season six episode "Ted's Wedding," tying the knot in Mary's apartment at short notice.
Engel continued to collaborate with her castmembers after The Mary Tyler More Show ended. She co-starred in the all-too-short-lived sitcom The Betty White Show.
In the following decades, Engel landed small recurring roles in other beloved sitcoms. In the 1990s, she played Shirley Burleigh, the wife of the athletic director on Coach. On Everybody Loves Raymond, she was partnered with the wonderful Fred Willard as Pat MacDougall. In recent years, she was back with Betty White on Hot in Cleveland.
Over her career, Engel earned five Emmy nominations — two for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and three for Everybody Loves Raymond. In 2015, she returned to where she began, onstage in New York. In the 2015 play John, she played an innkeeper in Gettysburg.
On April 12, Engel passed away in Princeton, New Jersey, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 70 years old.