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Barbara Colby Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (2)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (3)

Overview (2)

Born in New York, USA
Died in Venice, California, USA  (homicide)

Mini Bio (1)

Actress Barbara Colby, at age 36, 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. The tall, toothy, husky-voiced, frizzy-haired actress equipped with a keen, Brooklyn-tough sensibility and dead-on comedy instincts had just started to make a name for herself on the West coast when tragedy occurred. Hollywood lost a wonderful personality and promising talent that summer evening, someone who was proving to the TV masses that she was a bona fide contender.

Though born in New York City in 1939, Barbara was raised predominantly in New Orleans where her interest in acting grew while attending high school. After her graduation in 1957, she received a scholarship to Bard College on the Hudson back in New York. This was followed by a single semester at the Paris Sorbonne University in France.

While trying to make a go of it professionally on the New York stage, Barbara's spiritual world also began to open and develop. In contrast to her tough, streetwise exterior, the gentle, deep-feeling lady avidly pursued a metaphysical way of life. She didn't touch alcohol, was a strict vegetarian and meditated regularly as a devoted follower of the Indian Hindu guru Swami Muktananda. She also was a firm believer in reincarnation.

Following a solid stage performance in "Six Characters in Search of an Author" in 1964, Barbara 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 at the American Shakespeare Theatre Festival in Stratford, Connecticut.

Marking her first prime TV role on a Columbo (1971) 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 (1968), McMillan & Wife (1971), The F.B.I. (1965), Medical Center (1969), Kung Fu (1972) and Gunsmoke (1955). But it was MTM Productions that took strongly to Barbara after she made an hilarious appearance as Sherry, a worldly prostitute, opposite an impossibly naive Mary Tyler Moore in a now-classic 1974 jail cell episode of the Moore comedy series. Producers were so impressed by Barbara's dead-pan comic timing and appealingly sharp, cynical edge 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" starring Liv Ullmann 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 (1970). 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), 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 36th birthday and only three episodes into the TV series, Barbara and her acting colleague/boyfriend, James Kiernan, were walking to their car following the teaching of an acting class in Venice, California, when they were deliberately shot by two gang members inside a parking garage area. Barbara, who was estranged at the time from Robert Levitt Jr., the son of legendary entertainer Ethel Merman, died instantly from her single gunshot wound; Mr. Kiernan, who had recently appeared in an episode of MTM's "Rhoda," was able to describe the shooting to police before he succumbed but could not recognize the two men who shot them, noting that the shooting had occurred without warning, reason or provocation. Police noted that there was no attempt to rob the pair and appeared to be a random act of violence. The killers were never caught and the homicide remains a "cold case". Barbara was later cremated and a memorial service held at Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. She was survived by her mother and younger sister Renee.

Following the tragedy, comedienne Liz Torres 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, but the fact remains that a single, inexplicably brutal and senseless act snuffed out the life of a star comedienne in the making.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Robert Daniels Levitt Jr (Robert F. Six) (24 April 1968 - 24 July 1975) ( her death)

Trivia (3)

Before her untimely death, she filmed 3 episodes of the series Phyllis (1975) with Cloris Leachman - a spin-off from Mary Tyler Moore (1970).
Former daughter-in-law of Ethel Merman
She and actor James Kiernan 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.

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