Georgia Engel may always be best remembered for her turn as Georgette Franklin on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but the vivacious, sweet-natured actress has had a long and varied career. Yes, there’s been television — a medium she has kept up with over the years with memorable stints on Coach, Everybody Loves Raymond and Two and a Half Men — but she’s also a fixture onstage, lending her singing and dancing talents to productions like The Drowsy Chaperone. And in films, she recently turned up in the summer hit Grown Ups 2, showing a new generation of comic actors how it’s done.
But her Mary Tyler Moore experience is never far from her heart, and she recently was part of a historic reunion of five of that landmark series’ costars on an episode of Hot in Cleveland, on which she’s a recurring guest star. Engel, along with HiC star Betty White, Moore, Cloris Leachman and Valerie Harper all shared the screen together for the first time in over 35 years.
Engel took time to answer our “7 Questions,” in her baby voice that’s as endearing as ever.
1. You’re at a magazine rack and can pick three titles. Which do you choose?
I’m not too much of a magazine reader. I subscribe to The Christian Science Monitor. Then I suppose Time and Newsweek.
2. Your DVR can only carry three shows. Which ones would you want?
The Good Wife, Covert Affairs and Modern Family.
3. What has been your strangest fan encounter?
I get the same one over and over again, people come up to me and say, “Didn’t you used to be Georgia Engel?” (Laughs) I just say, “Well, I’m not dead. I still am!” I never know what to answer, and I get it so much that I wonder what’s wrong.
4. Tell me about a time when you were starstruck.
I’ve actually been starstruck with very few people, I guess because I started so young in television and working with the very finest comedians. I haven’t ever been one to ask for autographs and things like that. But in 1985 I did something called Night of 100 Stars at Radio City, and they happened to put us at the Rockettes dressing tables, and they had three little places and they put our names down. I got to sit right between Gwen Verdon and Cynthia Gregory. Cynthia Gregory was a very famous ballerina in the ’80s and Gwen Verdon was my idol from when I was a little girl. I hadn’t seen her on Broadway, but I had watched her on Ed Sullivan. Her dancing and her comedy was so original and unique, and because I loved dancing and I loved comedy, I was really stagestruck. We were all in a big number with Dick Van Dyke, it was called “Shoes.” People like Ginger Rogers and Chita Rivera and Gregory Hines. But I was really starstruck over Gwen Verdon, and she told me — I couldn’t believe how sweet she was — “I really love you … on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I’ve never forgotten that kindness. A few years later, I got to do Sweet Charity in Kansas City and Birmingham, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, and I thought how thrilling that I get to do a role that made Gwen Verdon famous.
5. What are three things you must have in your fridge or pantry?
It’s very boring, but milk, eggs and cheese.
6. You work on the stage, on TV and in movies. Do you have a favorite?
No, I actually adore the variety. I love going back and forth. I think many actors enjoy the variety of that, too.
7. When you work with younger actors — for instance, like this summer in Grown Ups 2 — do they know you and your career?
The younger actors on Grown Ups 2, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, Kevin James, they aren’t that much younger, so they grew up with The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It was very, very funny hearing that this huge actor, producer, director saying, “Oh my God, she’s and effing icon!”