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Peggy Cass, comic stage and screen actress, dies at 74

SHARE Peggy Cass, comic stage and screen actress, dies at 74

Peggy Cass, a comic actress who appeared in many movies and Broadway shows, died Monday in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City. She was 74.

Cass appeared in dozens of films and stage productions but is perhaps best known for her role as Agnes Gooch, the secretary in the stage show "Mame" and its movie adaptation "Auntie Mame." She won a Tony Award for the role and was nominated for an Academy Award.She was an honest, candid, and witty woman once described in the Globe as an "incessant chatterbox" who "oozes razzmatazz." Her exuberance made her a natural for TV. She was a panelist on "To Tell the Truth" and was Jack Paar's sidekick on his late-night TV show.

Cass was born in Somerville, Mass. and spent her childhood and teenage years in nearby Cambridge, where she graduated from Cambridge Latin School. "I was in the drama club but they wouldn't let me act," she said in a story published in the Globe on Dec. 26, 1972.

She said she always considered herself a Bostonian. "My roots are in Boston," she said. "I had my teeth straightened in Boston. I had my appendix taken out in Boston. What memories."

After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City, where she made the rounds of casting calls with no luck. Eventually, a press agent friend arranged a date with Clark Gable. She recited poetry, sang, and danced for him. He told her she was such a ham, she'd definitely make it. Paar heard about the unlikely twosome and invited her to talk about the experience on TV. "I was so nervous, Paar couldn't shut me up," she said in another story published in the Globe on Sept. 29, 1970. "I've been talking ever since."

She got her start in a USO troupe, playing a Russian sniper in "The Doughgirls" on a tour of Australia. She made her Broadway debut in "Bernadine." She also appeared in "The Front Page," "Plaza Suite" and "If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium."

Her one TV series, "The Hathaways," in which she co-starred with Jack Weston and three chimpanzees, lasted only the 1961-62 season.

Her gravelly voice became her signature. "Now, I'm sensitive about that gravel voice of mine," she said in 1973. "Once, while I was making a picture, clad in slacks, a man jostled me slightly and said: 'Excuse me miss -- or is it mister?' I told him, 'You'll never know!' "

She leaves her husband, Eugene Feeney of New York City.