ENGLEWOOD, N.J. – Sheila MacRae starred on the Broadway stage and in films, yet it was her small-screen role as the tolerant and brassy wife of a Brooklyn bus driver for which she is most remembered.
MacRae, best known for playing Alice Kramden to Jackie Gleason’s Ralph in the 1960s recreation of “The Honeymooners,” died Thursday. She was 92. The actress died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, MacRae’s granddaughter, Allison Mullavey, said.
In the 1950s version of “The Honeymooners,” Audrey Meadows starred with Gleason as lovebirds and sparring partners Ralph and Alice Kramden. Sheila MacRae replaced Meadows in a later version from 1966-70 on “The Jackie Gleason Show.” MacRae was the last survivor from the ’60s edition of the show; Jane Kean, who played Trixie Norton, died last fall. “My mother referred to herself as the last Mrs. Kramden,” said her daughter, actress Heather MacRae.
“She had a great life, my mom, she really did. She was quite a broad,” Heather MacRae said. “Fascinating, almost like an Auntie Mame character.”
MacRae, who suffered from dementia but was otherwise in good health, had been hospitalized for a minor surgical procedure. Her death was apparently the result of old age, Heather MacRae said.
A singer, dancer and actress, MacRae was married to “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel” star Gordon MacRae for 26 years and they appeared together in 1964 on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when the Beatles were featured.
She had put her career on hold while she devoted herself to MacRae and their four children, her daughter said. After helping her husband with his nightclub act, she decided to join him and her career took off. The couple appeared together in musicals including “Guys and Dolls,” with Sheila MacRae taking her performance as Miss Adelaide to Broadway in 1965. The couple divorced in 1967.
Actress Shirley Jones, who co-starred with Gordon MacRae in the 1950s film versions of “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel,” in a statement released by MacRae’s family, called Sheila MacRae “a great lady” with extraordinary talent who “helped me to be a better mother.”
After her divorce from Gordon MacRae, she was married to Ronald Wayne, who produced Gleason’s show, her daughter said. They later divorced.
Sheila MacRae played the role of Madelyn Richmond on the TV soap opera “General Hospital” and was the host of “The Sheila MacRae Show.”