The actress has died at the age of 89. In a long career as a stage and screen and TV actor and director, she may be best remembered as part of a terrific ensemble cast in the prime time parody of daytime soap operas called, appropriately enough Soap, that ran from 1977 through 1981. It was utterly hilarious must-see TV until its last season when it succumbed to the disease of shows that run too long when the plots become increasingly absurd even for a parody and the quality of the writing weakens.
Helmond was an absolute delight as Jessica Tate, the ditzy matriarch of the Tate family, dealing good naturedly with the travails of having a philandering and crooked husband and trouble-prone children, all the while fending off the amorous attentions of the many men who immediately fell under the sway of her charm as soon as they met her. Her one anchor during all this was her strong friendship with the family butler Benson DuBois, played superbly by Robert Guillaume, who treated her husband Chester with open contempt because he felt that Chester was basically scum.
Here she is in one scene that I will never forget where you see her at her most lovable cluelessness. It still cracks me up. It is with Billy Crystal, who plays her gay nephew Jodie, and Cathryn Damon as Mary Campbell who plays her sister and Jodie’s mother. Incidentally, Soap was one of the first prime-time TV shows that featured a gay central character.
If you can get hold of the DVD of this series, it is well worth watching, at least the first three seasons. I watched it again many years later with my teenage children and even they found it hilarious. In fact, I think I am going to try and get the DVDs and watch the show again. It was that good.