Childhood & Early Career
Katherine Helmond was born in Texas, USA on 5th July 1929. She was the only child of Joseph and Thelma Helmond and her middle class family had no prior connection to the American entertainment industry. But that wasn’t enough to stop little Katherine from dreaming about becoming an actress.
Her parents’ marriage didn’t last long as they got divorced a few years after Katherine was born. She was then raised by her mother and her grandmother. Her family members were ardent Roman Catholics and she was given lessons on Christianity right from her primary school days.
She did her early schooling in a Catholic school and constantly participated in school plays. By the time she reached her high school, she was already a fine and beautiful actress. She wanted to learn more before plunging into an acting career and hence, while in her high school, joined a local theatre and did odd jobs with minimal pay.
But she considers those days to be the formative days of her career as she used to learn the nuances of professional acting by observing other actors. She was also made a part of few of the plays.
Once out of the high school, she underwent a professional training in acting at the Dramatic Academy, and she also got well versed in the musical theatre. While at the Texas University, she graduated in Theatre and once she was done with it, she moved to New York and became part of the theatre scene.
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She started her acting career in New York in the mid-50s and performed for the first time in ‘As You Like It’, a play. Her performance was appreciated, but as she carried on with more theatrical productions, she realized that although theatre was a lucrative place to start her career with, it wasn’t financially viable. Hence, she started organizing acting workshops and spent some time at the New York University where she taught the nuances of acting to students.
After concentrating for some more time on gathering enough acting experience, she started auditioning for roles in television. After ignoring some minor roles, she finally said yes to ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’ The series had her playing a small role which was uncredited.
She carried on with similar roles and this went on for quite some time. It was only at the beginning of the 70s that she was finally getting noticed by the directors, and she started getting some meaty roles.
In 1971, she started her big screen career with a minor role in the film, ‘Believe in Me’. She then got a slightly better role to play in ‘The Hospital’. Despite her good looks and acting skills, it seemed very hard for her to break into the major roles.
In 1973, she returned to her theatrical roots for a while and became part of the Broadway ‘Great God Brown’ and ended up winning a Tony Award for her performance. Her success streak continued and she earned acclamations for her performances in productions, such as ‘Don Juan’, ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Mixed Emotions’.
In the 1975 film ‘The Legend of Lizzie Borden’, she got a major role as the sister of the titular character. In 1976, celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock roped her in for the film ‘Family Plot’, which was a successful dark comedy thriller.
In 1977, the executives at ABC network hand-picked her for a role in the series, ‘Soap’. She played the role of Jessica, a sassy matriarch of the Soap family. Her performance was met with thunderous applauses.
In 1984, she got the breakthrough role of her career, which finally made her a household name in the United States. She played the role of Mona Robinson in the sitcom ‘Who’s the Boss?’ and gathered some Emmy Nominations for her role in the successful series, which ran for eight seasons.
In the meantime, she played the role of Jonathan Pryce’s character’s mother in the film ‘Brazil’. The film has developed a cult following since its release and around the same time, Katherine did a few workshops to sharpen her skills as a director.
She then exhibited her directorial skills by directing four episodes of the series ‘Benson’, and also received directorial credit for an episode of ‘Who’s the Boss?’ Her career had picked up a steady pace by then and she was being hailed as one of the well-known character actors of the 80s.
She then went on to appear in a guest role in the British version of her sitcom ‘Who’s the Boss?’ She also kept her Hollywood career afloat with key roles in films, such as ‘Shadey’, ‘Overboard’ and ‘Lady in White’. For ‘Lady in White’, she received nomination for Saturn Award under the category Best Supporting Actress.
In mid 90s, she starred in the trippy comedy film ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, which starred Johnny Depp in the lead role. The film wasn’t well received initially, but eventually, it achieved a cult status. It is now known as one of the best stoner comedies of all time.
She then continued with playing recurring role in the universally hailed sitcom ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, and made a guest appearance in the fantasy drama, ‘True Blood’.
She has also lent her voice for several animated projects, such as ‘Cars’ and ‘Batman: The Animated Series’.
Family & Personal Life
Katherine Helmond married her boyfriend, George N. Martin, in 1957, way before she achieved fame. The marriage didn’t last long and after five years of being together, the couple got divorced in 1962. In the same year, she started dating David Christian and went on to marry him. She never had a child from any of her marriages.
Katherine was an ardent follower of Zen way of life and believed in leading a calm and composed life. In her own words, it helped her greatly in going through the ups and downs of her acting career.
Katherine Helmond passed away at her home in Los Angeles on 23 February 2019 due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.