Wednesday 7 June 2023

Doris Packer

Television typecast actors. If I mention, say, Gale Gordon, or Charles Lane, or Maudie Prickett, you pretty much know what kind of character they’re going to play.

If comedy casting directors were looking for a somewhat snooty, humourless, perhaps wealthy, woman or authority figure, they likely didn’t look any further than Doris Packer.

Perhaps her best-known roles were as the school principal on Leave It To Beaver and the mother of spoiled rich kid Chatsworth Osborne on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I remember her guest appearances as the operator of an exclusive private school in early episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. There were many more shows, too.

What you may not have known was her acting career went back to the 1920s. Here’s a neat feature story from the Portland Herald (Maine) of Oct. 31, 1927

Doris Packer, Known To Cast As “Overture Sal,” Likes Ben Turpin
Celebrates First Anniversary As Actress With Jefferson Players
(By Edith W Haines)
"Out in the alley, Rose Burdick has her new straight-eight waiting for her, Frances Morris has her dog and a car, too, to make off-stage moments happy, but I have nothing," and Doris Parker had a sympathetic audience of one in her dressing room at the Jefferson.
After seeing that young woman in her numerous sophisticated roles, the thought farthest from one’s mind was that one ever would be placed in a position to sympathize with her. But those roles have done Doris Packer an injustice.
Instead of the stand-offish sophisticate, she is delightfully ingenuous, the Sally of Jefferson Alley. She is known among the players as ’’Overture Sal," a nickname wished on her because of her ability to appear on the stage without the usual coatings of grease-paints and other contents of mysterious jars that decorate actors' dressing tables.
Last week Miss Packer celebrated her first anniversary as an actress, and in Portland. Miss Packer began her professional career in Portland, but does not plan to end it here. Like every actress she sees Broadway in the offing. Just out of college where she had appeared in Greek plays and the like, the youthful ingenue came East to make a name for herself and begin her career in the most practical and wisest way. Today she appears as one of the most talented and finished players of the Jefferson company.
To remain sad and sympathetic in Doris Packer’s presence would be impossible, however. for cars and dogs are not necessary to her happiness and peace of mind.
"Lindy's” airplane is going to have nothing on Rose Burdick's new car, for it is big enough to hold the entire Jefferson family, and is called "Our” car. And Miss Morris isn’t selfish with Trouper, either, for she would just as soon have him dragging shoes out of Doris Packer's dressing room as out of her own. Instead of being envious of her associates, it is for them to be envious of Miss Packer. She has an edge on them for she can take half an hour extra between shows to see a movie, for with an extra dash of rouge, a little shading for eyes and a change of costume she is ready for the performance.
While flappers are worshipping at the shrine of John Gilbert or Ronald Colman, Doris Packer kneels down to—don’t laugh—Ben Turpin!
A confession that some would hesitate at making, came out as calmly as if she were whispering the deepest of secrets. There is a sad story behind Ben Turpin's life— a tragedy. And while Ben Turpin's eyes are leading him in two different directions and making folks howl at his doings—he is secretly nourishing a sorrowful past. His broken heart hidden behind an unlovely fave [face?] is just as admirable masquerade—and that is what Miss Packer reveres.
“I've just been to see ‘The College Hero’ in which Ben Turpin plays, and which was filmed at the University of California from which I was graduated—so it was just a glimpse of home for me.”
With the last performance of “The Masquerader” over, and her seven-line tale finished, Miss Packet lined up with the others to try out the family car. It remained for Joseph McInerney to put on the finishing touches.
"Out of all the footsteps on the pavement, you can single out Doris Packer, for it is always the sharp tap, tap, tap of her quick little heels. And when she is mad you can tell that, too, for it’s taptaptap—just like that! And— But the sentence remained unfinished for the little comedienne's sharp heels were after the informant clearing the stage of his presence.

Packer spent her time on the stage, before and after war duty, relocating to California with her husband in 1947. He died in Los Angeles in 1953, the year she made her film debut in Universal’s Meet Me At The Fair.

By the time this story appeared in the St. Lucie News Tribune on April 14, 1961, she was well established in television.

TV’s ‘Richest Woman’ In Town
Fans of the Dobie Gillis TV show shouldn't be a bit surprised this week if they see "Mrs. Chattsworth ’Osborne” walking down the street. She's here as a houseguest of her cousin.
"Mrs Osborne," who also has several other simultaneous identities on the silvered tube, is Doris Packer, an able and versatile character actress with more years of successful Broadway and Hollywood experience then her animatedly attractive appearance admits to.
Miss Packer, as she is known professionally, has been enjoying a visit here with her favorite “girl” cousin, Mrs. R. J. Olson, in the latter's charming estate home in Maravilla. It's the first reunion for the two in six years and “we haven't stopped talking yet." says “Sis" Olson.
However, the visiting celebrity has also been during some of her time with another pet cousin, Earl Magrath of South Beach. The air, around the two homes, has been rich with reminiscence, shared memories and catch-up chat.
Much of the chatter concerns the TV actress’ fascinating adventures In cinema-land. In addition to having one of the top character roles in Dobie Gillis (NBC-TV) she also appears in the family program "Happy,” and in “Leave It to Beaver.” You've seen her, too, in "Laramie,” and several others in which she's had spot roles.
“I’m always the richest woman the world,” grins Miss Packer. “Which can get to be pretty expensive, since I have to buy all my own clothes."
The nice part about this comparatively new career, tells the dramatic veteran, is that it came to her— he didn't have to go looking for it. She’ll [missing words] she considered her full share of service in the theatre seven years ago, when she moved to the west coast. After all, she’d started in stock back in ’27, in Portland, Me., had moved to Broadway and covered the road from coast to coast and across the ocean on tour. She felt she’d earned a rest.
But it wasn’t to be that way. A fellow trouper, Larry Keating, who’d become a wheel in the west coast television industry, refused to let her rest on her laurels. “They need you,” he insisted, and promptly proceeded to get her booked, solid. She’s been at it ever since, with no signs a second let-up.
While on Broadway, Miss Packer’s favorite role was that of Nancy Blake, the part Clare Booth wrote herself into in the immortal satire, "The Women.” Miss Packer went on the road with this enduring play, covering “40 weeks, 40 states with 40 women.”
To top it off the troupe on request crossed the Pacific to do another long run with it in Australia. That’s a lot of traveling for a lot of gals—especially ones whose nightly dramatic job on the stage was a socialized cat-fight.
During her career, Miss Packer has acquired some wonderful friends among the top echelon of the theatrical world, high-ranking among whom are George Burns and Gracie Allen. In fact, their son Ronnie, star of the Happy show, is like a son to her. Ronnie, she says, is brilliant and talented, but he needs plenty of steering and discipline.
“And I give it to him, good,” chuckles Miss Packer.
Miss Packer’s career has been a colorful one—in other areas than the world of the stage. Back in the early years of World War II “my patriotism got the best of me.” She joined the Women’s Army Corps, and probably contributed in large measure to the size of the Armed Forces.
She and a close friend, who enlisted together as privates to the WACs, took a stand right to the middle of Times Square, New York City, and made with the patriotic pitch. They had as “shills” such tempters as top name bands and Broadway’s most brilliant stars.
Widow of Rowland Edwards, Broadway director-producer, Miss Packer now lives quietly (between shows) in her Hollywood home, her only “roommate” her Lakeland Terrier. But she has as “family” half of the television industry, from stars to crewmen (whom she thinks are pretty wonderful guys).
She particularly relishes a recent experience while to the Bank of America with her financeer-brother. A nice-looking young man came up and addressed her warmly calling her “Doris.” After a long and endearingly vague conversation, she was really worried— she couldn't remember where she'd met the guy.
Finally, it came to her.
He was the cook at the studio commissary.

Doris Packer is one of those people I associate with the black-and-white era of TV. I don’t know if I’ve actually seen her in colour (mind you, we didn’t get a colour set until the early ‘70s and I inherited our old Philco). By the ‘70s, she was appearing mainly in trivia columns in newspapers. She died in Glendale on March 31, 1979.


  1. I had contact with Ms. Packer by mail in 1978. She was very gracious with her time and the stories she told in handwriting. She sent me a couple of photos as well. One of my favorites. Thank you for posting these articles!

  2. Thanks so much Yowp on giving us some insight on the earlier years of this gifted character actress.. That group of fine supporting players that people recognized right off, but never knew their names. Usually in demand till they retired.