Childhood & Early Life
Benaderet was born on April 4, 1906 in New York City. Her father, Samuel Benaderet, was a Turkish immigrant and her mother's name was Margaret O'Keefe Benaderet. Bea grew up in San Francisco.
She attended St. Rose Academy High School and began her courses in acting at the Reginald Travis School of Acting in San Francisco. She also practiced voice acting and took her piano lessons during this period.
Benaderet became proficient in voice modulation and could speak many languages like French, Spanish, English and Yiddish.
While attending the Reginald Travis School of Acting in San Francisco, she appeared in theaters, finding employment as an actress, singer, writer and producer. She also took up the job of an announcer on radio. At the age of 12, she was spotted by the manager of KGO, who invited her to sing in his radio station.
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Benaderet received her big break in 1939 when she was cast as a regular in the show, ‘The Jack Benny Program’ and subsequently became a popular radio artist. She then went on to play interesting characters like the high society matron Mrs. Carstairs in ‘Fibber McGee and Molly’, the curious maid Gloria in ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ and the menacing landlady Clara Anderson in ‘A Day in the Life of Dennis Day’.
She played Iris Atterbury in the 1940s radio series, ‘My Favorite Husband’. When the producers decided to create a similar television series titled, ‘I Love Lucy’, Benaderet was the first choice to play the role of Ethel Mertz, but was unavailable to take up the role as she had already signed for the duo, Burns and Allen's television adaptation of their radio program. Vivian Vance, an unknown character actress and singer was eventually cast to play the role.
After lending her voice to the character Mama Bear in the classic Looney Tunes short, ‘The Bear's Tale’ in 1940, Benaderet appeared on screen for the first time as a clerk in the Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 spy thriller, ‘Notorious’.
Benaderet made a smooth transition from radio to television as she was cast in the role of Blanche Morton in the 1950 show, ‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’.
Benaderet was the guest in ‘I Love Lucy’ on January 21, 1952. She made a very amusing appearance as Miss Lewis, a love-starved spinster neighbor.
During this phase, Warner Bros had only Mel Blanc as their voice-over artist for both male and female characters. Benaderet joined as their first female voice-over artist, but as a freelancer. She then worked with Blanc on one of the most famous 1947 cartoon, ‘Tweetie Pie’. A few years later, she was replaced by June Foray.
Benaderet reunited with Warner Bros in the 60s when she lent her voice for ‘Flintstones’. She played Blanche Morton, the next door neighbor of George Burns and Gracie Allen, on both radio and television. She also had a regular role in the series, ‘A Day in the Life of Dennis’.
In the 1960s, Benaderet appeared alongside Eddie Albert in ‘Petticoat Junction’. During this time, she met the famous scriptwriter, Paul Henning and since then, they went on to collaborate numerous times on many shows.
When developing the show, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ in 1962, Henning wanted to cast Benaderet, but they both felt that her physical appearance wouldn’t suit the role.
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Even though Benaderet lost the role to Irene Ryan, she was constantly involved in the show, providing suggestions to Henning. But he dearly wanted her to be a part of the cast. So he created a character exclusively for her.
Benaderet played the character Cousin Pearl Bodine. ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ became so popular that it attracted as many as 60 million viewers a week.
My Favorite Husband – This radio and television show was an adaptation of the 1942 film, ‘Are Husbands Necessary?’ Benaderet lent her voice to the character Mrs. Iris Atterbury. The show was aired in CBS on July 5, 1948.
Burns and Allen – This was a popular show of George Burns and Gracie Allen. The show was later adapted as a radio show that started in 1929. Benaderet joined the cast as Blanche Morton in 1950.
The Jack Benny Program – Benaderet played the character Gertrude Gearshift, a telephone operator, in this comedy television-radio show. The show had 931 episodes and ran from May 2, 1932 to May 22, 1955.
The Flintstones – This animated situational comedy show garnered Benaderet huge popularity as a voice artist. She lent her voice to the second lead character, Barney Rubble. The show ran from September 30, 1960 to April 1, 1966 on ABC Network.
Petticoat Junction – This sitcom is considered as Benaderet’s most notable work. She played Kate Bradley, a widowed proprietor of a hotel. This show too was a collaborative work of her with Henning. The show ran from September 24, 1963 to April 4, 1970 for seven seasons, but Benaderet’s illness made her quit the show during the fifth season.
Benaderet first married actor Jim Bannon in August 1938, whom she met while working in the radio channel, KHJ. The couple had two children – Jack, born in 1940, and Maggie, born on March 4, 1947.
Their married life was disturbed due to Benaderet’s busy shooting schedules. She eventually filed for a divorce in 1950.
She then married a film technician named Eugene Twombly in 1957.
In 1963, Benaderet was diagnosed with an initial symptom of lung cancer. She received prompt treatment which was successful. But during the last phase of the treatment, a tumor was detected, which doctors couldn’t remove.
The radiation treatment sessions weakened her and she quit smoking. Her deteriorating health made her quit the industry.
On October 13, 1968, Benaderet passed away. Her mortal remains were cremated at the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood.
Four days later on October 17, Twombly died of a massive heart attack. He too, was cremated at the same place, beside her.