Elizabeth “Beth” Howland was a theatre and television actress and singer from America. She garnered fame for portraying Vera Gorman in ‘Alice’, the 1970s and 1980s sitcom based on Martin Scorsese's 1974 comedy-drama ‘Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore’. A native of Massachusetts, Howland relocated to New York City when she was 16 years old. In 1959, she had her Broadway debut in the Carol Burnett musical ‘Once Upon a Mattress’. That year, she also made her screen debut in an uncredited role in the film ‘Li'l Abner’. Her first television role came in 1973, in the telefilm ‘The Ted Bessell Show’. Besides ‘Alice’, Howland had prominent roles in shows like ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ and ‘The Love Boat’. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Awards four times but did not win one.
After graduating from high school, Beth Howland came to New York City with acting aspirations. She experienced her share of struggles in the early years of her career but eventually landed the role of Lady Beth in an off-Broadway production of Carol Burnett’s musical ‘Once Upon a Mattress’. The play opened on May 11, 1959, and proved to be a success. Later that year, it had its Broadway premiere at the Alvin Theatre (now known as the Neil Simon Theatre) and went on to be staged on other Broadway theatres as well. ‘Once Upon a Mattress’ also marked Howland’s Broadway debut. In the ensuing years, she also acted in musicals like Michael Stewart’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie’, Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray’s ‘High Spirits’, Ira Levin’s ‘Drat! The Cat!’, and Nunnally Johnson’s ‘Darling of the Day’.
Despite the fact that she was active in the industry for 43 years, Howland appeared in only two films, and both of those appearances were uncredited. She had her screen debut in the 1959 musical film ‘Li'l Abner’, portraying Clem’s wife. The film was inspired by Al Capp’s popular comic strip of the same name and the 1956 Broadway musical of the same name. Howland made her final cinematic appearance in the 1974 crime drama film ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’, in which she played the vault master’s wife.
Howland debuted on the small screen in the telefilm ‘The Ted Bessell Show’ in 1973. Also starring Ted Bessell, Robert Walden, and Barra Grant, the film revolves around a magazine publisher who desperately tries to prevent the dissolution of his marriage as well as his magazine. She then appeared in an episode of ABC’s comedy anthology series ‘Love, American Style’. In the season five premiere (1975) of CBS’ detective television series ‘Canon’, she portrayed a secretary. That year, she also made guest appearances in two other shows, ABC’s police procedural drama ‘The Rookies’ and CBS’ drama series ‘Bronk’. Between 1972 and 1975, Howland appeared in two episodes of the CBS sitcom ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’, portraying two different characters.
In 1979, she was cast as Essie Carmichael in the 1979 television adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedy ‘You Can't Take It with You’. In 1980, she played a stripper in the HBO film ‘The Wild Wacky Wonderful World of Winter’. Howland portrayed four different characters, Lee Noble, Eloise Farnsworth, Jeannie Davis, and Captain Bernice Tobin, in six episodes of ABC’s comedy-drama series ‘The Love Boat’. In 1983, she played Evelyn Hillingdon in the television adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel ‘A Caribbean Mystery’.
In CBS’ sitcom ‘Alice’, which aired from August 31, 1976, to March 19, 1985, Howland played the neurotic and scatter-brained Vera Louise Gorman. Besides the series protagonist Alice (Linda Lavin), Vera is the only original waitress who remains employed at the diner throughout the show’s nine-season run. Howland was nominated for four Golden Globes (1980-83) for her performance in the show but never won one.
In later years, she appeared in TV shows like ‘Comedy Factory’, ‘You Can’t Take It with You’, ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch’, and ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’. Her last screen appearance was in a 2002 episode of Fox’s short-lived show ‘The Tick’. She also lent her voice to a singer in the animated series ‘Batman Beyond’ (2000) and Dr. Leventhal in ‘As Told by Ginger’ (2002).
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Family & Personal Life
Born on May 28, 1941, in Boston, Massachusetts, Beth Howland moved to New York City at the age of 16 with a friend, who was a dancer.
On November 6, 1961, Howland exchanged wedding vows with actor Michael J. Pollard. They had a daughter together, named Holly Pollack. The couple divorced in 1969. Her second husband was actor Charles Kimbrough, whom she married in 2002.
Since Howland was a teenager, she had been smoking cigarettes. She quit smoking in the 2000s but was diagnosed with lung cancer. She passed away on December 31, 2015, after a long battle with the disease. As per her wish, her husband, Charles Kimbrough, did not inform the media of her death immediately. On May 24, 2016, four days prior to her 75th birthday, he reached out to Associated Press to report that his wife had died.