36 (passed away Jul. 24th, 1975)
Jul. 2nd, 1939
New York, USA
Barbara Colby's Main TV Roles
Main Movie Roles1974 - California Split
1968 - Petulia
Guest TV Roles
Barbara Colby, at age 35, was on the brink of TV character stardom when the native New Yorker was senselessly shot and killed one evening on the streets of Los Angeles. She was a tall, toothy, husky-voiced, frizzy-haired actress equipped with a keen, Brooklyn-tough sensibility and dead-on comedy instincts. Hollywood lost a wonderful personality that summer evening, someone who was proving to the TV masses that she was a definite contender.
Barbara was born in New York City on July 2, 1940, and started up her acting career in the theater. Following a solid performance in "Six Characters in Search of an Author" in 1964, she took to the Broadway lights with a debut in "The Devils" the following year. Throughout the rest of the decade, she impressed in such plays as "Under Milkwood", "Murder in the Cathedral" and "Dear Liar", and also garnered fine notices for her Portia in "Julius Caesar" in 1966.
Marking her first prime TV role on a "Columbo" episode in 1971, Barbara began a bi-coastal career and played a host of support/guest roles on such established shows as "The Odd Couple", "McMillan and Wife", "The F.B.I.", "Medical Center", "Kung Fu" and "Gunsmoke". But it was MTM Productions that took strongly to Barbara after she made an hilarious appearance as a worldly prostitute opposite an impossibly naive Mary Tyler Moore in a now-classic jail cell episode of the Moore comedy series. Producers were so impressed by Barbara's sharp, cynical edge and dead-pan timing that they brought her character back in a subsequent episode.
Never giving up her love for the stage, Barbara continued to gain in strength in such quirky 70s plays as "Aubrey Beardsley the Neophyte", "House of Blue Leaves", "Afternoon Tea" and "The Hot L. Baltimore". She also returned to the classics with an off-Broadway role as Elizabeth in "Richard III," and was back on Broadway with the plays "Murderous Angels" in 1971 and a revival of "A Doll's House" in the early part of 1975. Following the close of the latter show, Barbara returned to Los Angeles with a career-making offer. MTM had just cast her as a regular player on a spin-off from Mary Tyler Moore's show. The new sitcom, "Phyllis" (1975), starred actress Cloris Leachman who had played one of Mary's self-absorbed, scatterbrained friends to Emmy-winning effect. Barbara, who appeared earlier with Leachman in the TV-movie A Brand New Life (1973) (TV), was now in "second banana" position playing Cloris' boss, Julie Erskine, the owner of a commercial photography studio. The actress had officially paid her dues and broken into the top sitcom ranks. With two films also in the can, California Split (1974) and Memory of Us (1974), Barbara seemed poised for bigger things.
And then on July 24, 1975, just weeks after her 35th birthday and only three episodes into the TV series, Barbara and an acting colleague, James Kiernan (II), were walking to their car following an acting class in Venice, California, when they were deliberately shot inside a parking area. Barbara died instantly of her gunshot wounds; Kiernan, however, who had recently appeared in an episode of MTM's "Rhoda", was able to describe the shooting to police before he succumbed to his wounds. He said that he did not recognize the two men who shot them, and that the shooting had occurred without warning, reason or provocation. Police noted that there was no attempt to rob the pair, and concluded that it was a random, drive-by shooting. The killers were never caught and the homicide remains a "cold case".
Following the tragedy, comedienne Liz Torres (I) came on board to replace Barbara in the Julie Erskine part. The role itself lasted for only one season before they changed the sitcom's setting in order to try and improve the lackluster ratings. It didn't help. Despite a Golden Globe win for Leachman, the show was canceled after only one more season. In retrospect, one can't tell whether Barbara might have made a difference in the sitcom's ratings or outcome. The fact remains that this inexplicably brutal act snuffed out the life of a star comedienne in the making.
- Former daughter-in-law of 'Ethel Merman' (qv)
- She and actor 'James Kiernan (II)' (qv) were walking to their parked car after teaching an acting class in Los Angeles, when they were gunned down by two men for no apparent reason. The killers were never caught, and the crime remains unsolved.
- Before her untimely death, she filmed 3 episodes of the series _"Phyllis" (1975)_ (qv) with 'Cloris Leachman' (qv) - a spin-off from _"Mary Tyler Moore" (1970)_ (qv).
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