Queen of the Dead—dateline July 4, 2011
• Adorable, baby-voiced actress Alice Playten, 63, died on June 25. She was one of those “oh, her!” actresses whose face and voice are more familiar than her name. She did zillions of TV commercials, was frequently onstage (Tony-nominated for Henry, Sweet Henry in 1968) was occasionally in movies, and guested on various TV series from the 1970s-2000s. But this is what you will remember her for, I’ll bet: Playten was the perky newlywed promising dyspeptic hubby Terry Kiser “marshmallowed meatballs and poached oysters” in a 1970 Alka Seltzer commercial. Oh, her!
• Norma Lyon, the Rodin of State-Fair Butter Sculpture, died on June 26. She was 81. Since 1960, Lyon (who was actually quite talented, from an artistic standpoint) sculpted just about everything out of U.S. Grade AA salted butter that can be sculpted, and many things that shouldn’t: life-sized cows, of course, but also Elvis, various US presidents, da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” John Wayne, the cast of Peanuts, a Harley-Davidson, and Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” Lyon’s “quaint credentials” were impeccable: she was a niece of Phil Stong, author of the 1932 novel State Fair.
• Suburban dads everywhere are in mourning for George C. Ballas, Sr., the inventor of the Weed Eater, who died on June 25 at 85. Working with fishing wire, a tin can and a lawn-mower motor, Ballas had his “voilà!” moment in 1971. He was a WWII and Korean War vet who ran both Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire dance studios (could you do that? I mean, simultaneously?). His wife was flamenco dancer Maria Louisa Marulanda; their son is frequent Dancing with the Stars partner Corky Ballas (Corky’sson, Mark, is also a dancer).
• Imperious British actress Margaret Tyzack, 79, died on June 25. She was the Queen of the Miniseries, appearing in Kenilworth, The Infamous John Friend, The Forstye Saga, The First Churchills, Jackanory, Cousin Bette, and Our Mutual Friend—but for me, she will always be Derek Jacobi’s long-suffering, eye-rolling mother, Antonia, in the brilliant I, Claudius (known to my friends as I, Clavdivs, or sometimes I, Clamdip).