Thursday, 1 September 2016

Everybody Loves Doris Roberts

The cast of the 1980s series "Remington Steele" from the second season on. From left are Stephanie Zimbalist as Laura Holt; Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele; Doris Roberts, long before she was Ray Barrone's mother, as Mildred Krebs.
She may be best known as Ray Barrone’s overbearing mother, but the reason Doris Roberts got that role in “Everybody Loves Raymond” was the distinguished body of work she had produced leading up to the sitcom’s debut in 1996. She recently passed away, giving us a chance to look back at a career that really picked up speed in the 1980s.

I had seen Doris Roberts in a number of roles before her big breakthrough role in a regular series. She had played the crazy mother of Father Tim in “Soap”, and the mother of the title character in “Angie”, both Roberts in roles featuring that distinctive New York accent.

Then, in 1982, she played a homeless woman in the “Cora and Arnie” episode of “St. Elsewhere” where she earned an Emmy for her performance.

Not too much later, she would find the role that she would be most associated with in the 1980s.

Steele situation
“Remington Steele” had debuted in 1982 with an interesting premise. Laura Holt was a woman, trained as a private investigator, who knew she would not be taken seriously if she started her own agency. Consequently, she created an agency with a fictitious male head named Remington Steele. It worked, and her agency was becoming more and more successful. However, a wrench got thrown into her plan – a man showed up claiming to be Remington Steele, and the game was on.

"Remington Steele" was on CBC, and I watched it every week. That first season, the opening credits were narrated by Laura Holt, and featured still photos shown in rapid succession to look almost animated. It was the same style used in shows like "The Rockford Files". The first season featured Holt dealing with Steele who was a bumbler and a fake, but incredibly charming, and wanting to run the agency. In addition to herself at the agency, there was an investigator named Murphy Michaels, played by James Read, who was jealous of Steele. It was obvious he was attracted to Laura, and saw Steele as a threat that way. Not so much as an investigator, because he looked down at him and outright dismissed him. The other member of the staff was secretary Bernice Foxe.

The other thing I loved about the show was that, since Steele had no training as an investigator, he quoted liberally from movies every episode. It was cool because he would name the movie, the year, and the studio who produced it. One episode, Laura turned the tide, and quoted liberally from TV shows she watched. It illustrated the difference between Laura and Steele.

As with so many series that experience success in their first year, there was change before season two. Murphy Michaels and Bernice Foxe were gone. By the second season, viewers had a sense of who Laura Holt and Remington Steele were. In the second season opener, they run afoul of an IRS employee named Mildred Krebs. By the end of the episode she becomes a part of the agency, where she stayed until the end of the series four years later. This was the cast for the rest of the series.

Mildred Krebs, who had a distinctive NewYork accent, was played by Doris Roberts.

She would play that role with distinction, being nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actress in a dramatic series in 1985.

The years after
Doris Roberts would go on to guest star in a variety of TV series until 1996, when she signed on to play the mother in a new sitcom. It was based on the stand-up comedy routine of New York comedian Ray Romano, and would be called “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She would play an overbearing and meddling, yet somehow endearing mother to Romano’s character Ray Barrone.

Roberts would parlay that role as Marie Barrone into a nine-year stint that produced one of the most iconic roles of the 1990s and four Emmy awards.

Parting thoughts
Looking back, the two roles Doris Roberts is most known for are opposite in some ways. Mildred Krebs was more of a supporting player who frequently referred to Remington Steele as “boss”. Fast forward 10 years and Marie Barrone is the opposite of a supporting player. She was the one giving orders, the one taking charge and going too far in the other direction by meddling in her son’s life. This contrast, coupled with her Emmy-winning role as a homeless person in “St. Elsewhere” really shows her versatility as an actor.

Add to that the fact she has that distinctive New York accent, and she really is one of a kind. That’s why everyone, including the Emmys, loves Doris Roberts.

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