Mama’s Family was one of the most surprising TV spin-off success stories in history. And one of the cast is Dorothy lyman and Ken Berry. Typically when a sketch comedy show spins off one of its distinctly unique characters, it usually does so through some kind of ambitious concept film like ‘Wayne’s World’ was. More times than not, spin-off films like these, Wayne’s World excluded, of course, turn out to be box office flops. Flicks like ‘It’s Pat!’ and ‘The Ladies Man’ are great examples of this trend.
While it wasn’t a film, ‘Mama’s Family’ was a 1983 spin-off of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’. Vicki Lawrence came up with the character Thelma ‘Mama’ Harper on The Carol Burnett Show where all of the action. Of course, it revolved around Carol Burnett but It was actually costume designer Bob Mackie’s idea to have Lawrence play Burnett’s mother. Even though in reality Burnett was 16 years older than her ‘daughter’.
Mama’s Family was all about the Harper Family which consisted of the wise-cracking and short-tempered Mama. Her dim-witted son Vinton portrayed by Ken Berry, his flirty wife Naomi played by Dorothy Lyman. Betty White’s character Ellen who was Mama’s oldest daughter, and the surly middle child Eunice who was portrayed by Burnett.
The show ran on network TV from 1983 to 1984, before moving into syndication in 1986. It continued to run for another four seasons until it finally came to an end in 1990. It became even more popular once it was syndicated and its reruns are still running on TV today.
The final episode aired more than 3 decades ago. So obviously, not everyone that was a cast member on Mama’s Family is still with us today. Keep watching to see which actors from Mama’s Family have passed away in the 31 years since the series came a close.
Ken Berry’s character Vinton Harper was the youngest child on Mama’s Family in both the network and syndicated runs of the series. The show began with Vint’s first wife, Mitzi, leaving him and their children. Vint then moved back in with his mothers and fell in love with the girl next door Naomi. They end up getting married, and instead of Vint moving in with Naomi, she wound up moving into Mama’s basement with him.
Ken Berry and Dorothy lyman’s character lived in that basement for the majority of the series. During the NBC run of the show. Thelma’s large room upstairs was occupied by Aunt Fran played by Rue and Dorothy lyman with Ken Berry still lived in the basement. Maybe they just liked it down there or something. Who knows?
Berry passed away in 2018 at the age of 85. In addition to his Mama’s Family credit, Ken Berry also starred in shows like F Troop and Mayberry R.F.D. He later appeared in Disney+ live-action films like The Cat From Outer Space and Herbie Rides Again.
And you better not go sneaking off so soon. Stick around to see who else from Mama’s Family sadly has died since the series wrapped up in 1990.
Harvey was a part of Mama’s Family from the get-go having already had been a series regular on The Carol Burnett Show. He played Eunice’s dense husband Ed, who ran a hardware store, and who was constantly being picked on by his nagging wife. Harvey and Eunice had a son together named Bubba, who came to live with Mama after Ed and Eunice moved to Florida while he was in juvenile jail. Korman was notably also one of the directors of the series.
Korman and Burnett chose not to reprise their roles for the syndicated run of Mama’s Family as Burnett was in the middle of divorcing her husband, executive producer Joe Hamilton, who owned the intellectual property rights to Mama’s Family and elected to keep the show going without his ex-wife’s presence.
He was also famous for his contributions to numerous Mel Brooks films. Harvey first joined forces with Brooks for 1974s Blazing Saddles. He also appeared in the Mel Brooks films High Anxiety, History of the World Pt. 1 and Dracula: Dead, and Loving It.
In 2008 at the age of 81, Korman died of complications from suffering an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Rue Mclanahan portrayed Mama’s unmarried sister Fran during the original NBC run of the series. It was a much different role for her than her later portrayal of her lusty Golden Girls character, Blanche Devereaux. Fran worked for the local newspaper and was a lot more uptight than the rest of the Harper family.
While on Mama’s Family, Mclanahan got the opportunity to work alongside her future Golden Girls co-star Betty White who played Thelma Harper’s oldest daughter Ellen Harper Jackson. She also worked with another Golden Girl, Bea Arthur, while playing Maude’s best friend on the All in the Family spin-off Maude.
It was actually The Golden Girls that prevented both Betty White and Rue McClanahan from reprising their respective roles on Mama’s Family when the series went into syndication. Her absence in the series was explained away by having Fran choke to death on a toothpick off-screen.
In 2010 McClanahan died after having a brain hemorrhage.
On Mama’s Family, Van played the character Aunt Effie in addition to writing several of the series episodes where Ken berry and Dorothy Lyman are part of the film. She broke into sitcom writing at a time when it was especially hard for a woman to find success in such a capacity in the entertainment industry. Not only did Van write for Mama’s Family, but she also wrote for shows like Silver Spoons, Major Dad, and Punky Brewster.
Aunt Effie was featured in both the NBC network run as well as the syndicated version of the series. Van and Ken Berry both came from the same small town of Moline, Illinois, and became close friends while working alongside each other. She also befriended her childhood idol, Shirley Temple, after the two both joined the same Methodist Church in LA. Van died at the age of 74 in 2002.
Alberta Meechum, Anne Haney’s character, was Thelma’s arch-enemy. Alberta was the wife of Reverend Meechum and was once the president of the Church Ladies League. She was judgmental and loved to spread gossip much like Helen Lovejoy of ‘The Simpsons’ did.
Alberta, much like Helen, used her privileged position to look down on her husband’s parishioners. She also had a tendency of meddling in the congregant’s lives under the auspices of being concerned about the fate of their souls. Bless her heart.
Younger viewers probably remember Anne Haney best for her portrayal of Mrs. Sellner the social worker in Mrs. Doubtfire whom Daniel played by Robin Williams attempted – albeit unsuccessfully – to charm his way out of shared custody of his children. Or perhaps you remember her for her role as Greta, Jim Carrey’s deadpan secretary in Liar Liar. Haney played the perfect no-nonsense foil that always seemed to be unamused by the antics of the leading man who thought that they could pierce through her hard, unpenetrable shell with their shenanigans.
Sadly, in 2001 at the age of 67, Haney died of congestive heart failure.
Redmond was the second actress to play Lolly Purdue, Thelma’s friend and her successor as president of the Church Ladies League. Her character was the focus of a ‘very special episode’ of sorts in season 5 titled ‘Reading the Riot Act’ where it was revealed that she was illiterate. The remainder of the episode involved Mama taking the initiative to try and combat adult illiteracy.
Redmond’s most memorable TV role was as one of the flightless nuns in ‘The Flying Nun’. Sally Field played Sister Betrille, a nun that could magically fly whenever her habit caught a passing breeze. Redmond’s character Sister Jacqueline was a sensible nun whom Sister Bertrille often confided in. She also narrated every episode of the series.
Redmond died in February 2020 at the ripe old age of 95.
On Mama’s Family, Lewis played Claude Cainmaker, Vint’s flakey unscrupulous friend. Claude appeared in two season 1 episodes ‘Alien Marriage’ and ‘Mama’s Silver’. In the former, Claude talked Vint into a Green Card marriage scheme involving a Portuguese woman. In ‘Mama’s Silver’, Vint pawned his mother’s silver to bail Claude out of jail. Since Claude was never seen again, one can only assume that this was the last straw for Mama.
Lewis was a prolific character actor who amassed more than acting 200 credits throughout his career. He often worked alongside Clint Eastwood in films like Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel Any Which Way You Can. He also appeared in movies like Bronco Billy, High Plains Drifter, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Lewis was the father of actress Juliette Lewis. He appeared alongside his daughter in the 2000 film The Way of the Gun as well as 2004s Blueberry. He died of a heart attack in 2015 at the age of 79.
Reed was best known for his country music career but also starred in dozens of TV shows and films such as Smokey and the Bandit, The Brid, and She Got The Goldmine. He appeared in the season 2 episode of Mama’s Family ‘The Return of Leonard Oates’ as the titular character. Leonard. Oates was Naomi’s cheating 2nd husband who left her for another woman. In the episode, he returned to Raytown to try and win her back. In the past, Naomi was never quite able to refuse his bold and charming ways, but this time was different. Instead of choosing to pick things back up with Leonard who mind you was filthy rich, Naomi chose the simple life with Vinton instead.
In his musical career. Reed was best known for his songs ‘Guitar Man’, ‘A Thing Called Love’, ‘Amos Moses’, and ‘When You’re Hot, You’re Hot’. That latter of which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance.
Having had been a heavy smoker for the majority of his life, Reed passed away in Nashville, Tennessee in September 2008 of complications from emphysema at the age of 71.
Well, here we are once again at the end of another facts-filled video. It’s a bit sad looking back on all of these dearly departed actors, but fortunately, Carol Burnett, Betty White, and Vicki Lawrence are still alive and kicking.