Susan Tolsky, ‘Here Come the Brides’ and ‘Madame’s Place’ Actress, Dies at 79

Susan Tolsky, the comic character actress who sparkled as the winsome Biddie Cloom on Here Come the Brides and as the shy secretary Bernadette Van Gilder on Madame’s Place, has died. She was 79.

Tolsky died Oct. 9 of natural causes at her Toluca Lake home in Los Angeles, her sister, Noel Foreman, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Tolsky also portrayed the secretary of a high school football coach (Rock Hudson) bedding students in Roger Vadim’s Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) and was a regular performer on The New Bill Cosby Show, a 1972-73 CBS variety program produced by Laugh-In legend George Schlatter.

Onscreen, she often wore big, round eyeglasses and used a voice she described in a 1969 TV Guide interview as “a chicken with a hernia.”

“I realized a long time ago that men don’t look at me and pant and go crazy,” the Texas native said. “But at least I’m not worried about turning 40.”

Tolsky drew lots of laughs as the gawky Biddie on ABC’s Here Come the Brides, which ran for two seasons (1968-70) and was loosely based on the Mercer Girls, who were brought to the boom town of Seattle in the 1860s to work as teachers.

She also stood out as Van Gilder on the 1982-83 first-run syndicated sitcom Madame’s Place, which revolved around a ribald puppet (voiced and controlled by Wayland Flowers) who chats up celebrities on the late-night talk show she hosts from her Hollywood mansion.

Since the late ’80s, Tolsky worked primarily as a voice actor on shows including Foofur, Bobby’s World, Darkwing Duck, Pepper Ann and The Buzz on Maggie.

Susan Tolsky and Roddy McDowall in 1971’s ‘Pretty Maids All in a Row’

Courtesy Everett Collection

The younger of two daughters, Tolsky was born in Houston on April 6, 1943. Her parents, Abe and Sarah, ran a dress shop.

She attended Bellaire High School and then University of Texas at Austin to pursue a career in nursing — she had worked in hospitals since she was 15 — but then switched to majoring in theater and English, graduating in 1967.

She auditioned for Screen Gems casting director Eddie Foy III, then came to Hollywood and landed on 1968 episodes of ABC’s The Second Hundred Years and Bewitched before being hired for Here Come the Brides.

After beginning on the series, which starred more established actors Robert Brown, Bobby Sherman, David Soul and Joan Blondell, Tolsky held out for a contract at Screen Gems and eventually received one, much to the delight of fans of the Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-inspired show.

In 1972, Tolsky portrayed a wacky neighbor of Lucy Arnaz’s Kim Carter on an episode of CBS’ Here’s Lucy. She was all set to co-star as Sue Ann Ditbenner in a spinoff starring Arnaz, but the show was not picked up.

Her résumé also included the movies Charley and the Angel (1973), Love at First Bite (1979), How to Beat the High Cost of Living (1980) and The Devil and Max Devlin (1981) and guest spots on Love, American Style, Quincy, M.E., Fantasy Island, Alice, Barney Miller and Webster.

Tolsky loved to knit and was a voracious reader, her sister said. She never married.

A funeral service was held Oct. 31 at the Angeleno Valley Mortuary in North Hollywood.

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