Obituaries

Allyn Ann McLerie, 91, veteran of Broadway, TV, and film

Allyn Ann McLerie, who drew attention on Broadway when she was 21 in “Where’s Charley?” then became a familiar screen presence through numerous movie and television roles, died May 21 in North Bend, Wash. She was 91.

Her daughter, Iya Gaynes Falcone Brown, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. McLerie died at her daughter’s home, where she had lived for some years.

Ms. McLerie’s versatility served her well on Broadway, in the dance-marathon movie “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969), and on television comedies like “The Tony Randall Show,” where she was Miss Reubner, the caustically hilarious assistant to Randall’s Judge Franklin. She also had a memorable supporting role in “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” the NBC and Lifetime series.

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The actor William Daniels, who first met Ms. McLerie when both were child performers in New York and became a lifelong friend, said her triple-threat talent was obvious early on.

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“I just looked at her and my heart melted,” he said in a telephone interview. “She had a beautiful voice. She could act. She could dance. She could do the whole thing.”

Ms. McLerie was born on Dec. 1, 1926, in Grand-Mère, Quebec. Her father, Allan, was a pilot who died of a brain aneurysm before she was born. Her mother, Vera Stewart McLerie, moved the family to the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.

Allyn Ann studied piano and dance. By 16, she was on Broadway dancing in the ensemble of “One Touch of Venus,” which was choreographed by Agnes de Mille.

In 1944, she was in the hit Broadway musical “On the Town,” which had music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. She married Green the next year. They divorced in 1953.

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Ms. McLerie earned fine notices for her work in “Where’s Charley?”, a musical adaptation of the play “Charley’s Aunt.” Opening in October 1948, it starred Ray Bolger and was directed by George Abbott and choreographed by George Balanchine. It was the first full-scale Broadway musical for the composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, and it included the song “Once in Love With Amy,” sung by Bolger about Ms. McLerie’s character.

But it was another song that Brooks Atkinson, reviewing the show in The New York Times, singled out.

“In company with Allyn McLerie,” he wrote of Bolger, “he turns the antiphonal ‘Make a Miracle’ into an original and whimsically humorous piece of music.” Later in the review, Atkinson described the show’s female leads this way: “As the very proper young ladies, Doretta Morrow and Miss McLerie are not at all hard to look at, and they are accomplished singers.”

Ms. McLerie’s Broadway credits also included “Miss Liberty” in 1949 and a 1960 revival of “West Side Story,” in which she played Anita (the Chita Rivera role). But in the 1950s her focus shifted to film and television; her last Broadway appearance was in a 1963 musical revue, “The Beast in Me.”

She almost had another notable Broadway credit: She was signed as “first featured performer” for “Funny Girl,” the 1964 Barbra Streisand hit, but according to newspaper accounts at the time, her role was cut in preproduction when the show was deemed too long. Almost a decade later, she appeared with Streisand in the movie “The Way We Were.”

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Ms. McLerie’s early films included “Calamity Jane,” the 1953 musical western in which Doris Day played the title role. She was also in “Cinderella Liberty” (1973) and briefly in “All the President’s Men” (1976), among other films.

In 1953, shortly after her divorce, she had married actor George Gaynes, and in 1967 they moved from New York to Los Angeles, where Ms. McLerie began to get regular television work. In the early and mid-1970s, she appeared on “Cannon,” “The Waltons,” “The F.B.I.,” and other series.

Then, in 1976, came “The Tony Randall Show,” one of her signature television roles. She also had a recurring role on “WKRP in Cincinnati” and appeared on Gaynes’s hit show “Punky Brewster,” as a love interest for his character.

Her most acclaimed later role was as Florence Bickford, the mother of the title character (played by Blair Brown) on “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd,” which ran for five seasons beginning in 1987.

“McLerie etches a definitive portrait of the kind of mother whose character lies between Mother Teresa and Mommie Dearest,” Lee Winfrey of Knight-Ridder News Service wrote in reviewing that show. “Florence cares enough to send the very best, and the best is always advice to do it her way.”

Gaynes died in 2016. His and Ms. McLerie’s son, Matthew, died in a car accident in 1989. In addition to her daughter, Ms. McLerie leaves a granddaughter and two great-granddaughters.

Early in her career, Ms. McLerie was such an accomplished dancer that she toured Europe with Ballet Theater. In 1951, when “Where’s Charley?” played in Boston, she was interviewed by The Boston Globe and sounded very much like what she was: a performer with more talents than she knew what to do with.

“I want to be known in the theater as an actress who dances and sings,” she said. “I wish people would stop classifying me as a dancer who can sing and act.”