Jayne Meadows, a Broadway, Hollywood, and TV veteran known for her sophisticated persona and her work alongside her husband and business partner Steve Allen, has died. According to Deadline, her son Bill Allen confirmed that she had died at home in Encino, CA over the weekend. She was 95.
Born the daughter of Episcopal missionaries in Wuchang, China, Meadows made her Broadway debut under her birth name of Jayne Cotter in the 1941 comedy Spring Again. Although she continued to perform sporadically on Broadway until the late ’70s, she made the leap to Hollywood in 1946,when she appeared in Undercurrent alongside Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, and Robert Mitchum. Around this time, Meadows and her sister Audrey (who would later go on to star as Alice Kramden on The Honeymooners) changed their last name at the behest of MGM’s Louis B. Mayer.
Meadows’ first few years in Hollywood were busy—according to The New York Times, she appeared in three films in 1947 alone. Some of her more prominent films include Enchantment (1948), with David Niven; Song Of The Thin Man (1947) with Myrna Loy and William Powell; and David And Bathsheba (1951), with Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck. But as the ’50s began, Meadows found her calling in TV. She appeared in all of the Golden Age drama series at one point or another, and became well known to audiences as a regular panelist on I’ve Got A Secret and a frequent guest on What’s My Line? and Password. Later, she would play regular roles on several long-running series, most notably Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.
Around the time she began acting on TV, Meadows met Steve Allen, whom she would marry in 1954 and work with until Allen’s death in 2000. Meadows appeared on all of Allen’s various talk shows, beginning with the original Tonight! show, and wrote for and performed in Allen’s PBS series Meeting Of Minds in the late ’70s and early ’80s. On that show, which paired famous historical figures in imaginary, time-warping conversation, Meadows played Cleopatra, Margaret Sanger, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Florence Nightingale, and Susan B. Anthony, a role for which she won the first Women’s Equality Day award from the National Organization for Women.
Meadows was a cast member on the American version of Absolutely Fabulous, High Society, in 1995-1996, which would turn out to be her last regular TV role. She played Billy Crystal’s mom in both City Slickers movies, and her last film appearance was in 1999’s The Story Of Us alongside Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. In the ’90s she and Allen also appeared as themselves in Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Robert Altman’s The Player, a reflection of their respected status in Hollywood. Meadows is survived by her son Bill, three stepsons, 11 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, and their children.