Mary Kay Place Biography

Mary Kay Place (b. September 23, 1947, Port Arthur, Texas) is an American actress, writer, director, songwriter, and singer. After graduating from the University of Tulsa with a Speech Degree, she moved to Hollywood with aspirations of becoming an actress and writer. She was hired for “The Tim Conway Comedy Hour” in the 1970’s as a production assistant to both star Tim Conway and producer Norman Lear. It was Conway who gave her her first on-camera break, while it was Lear who saw to it that Place received her first writing credit on his subsequent “All in the Family.” Her appearance on this show as one of Gloria’s buddies is quite memorable because she sang “If Communism Comes Knocking on Your Door, Don’t Answer It.”

Lear then cast her in the role of would-be C&W star Loretta Haggers on the satirical soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” (1976 – 1977). She won an Emmy Award for her work as Loretta, and was later nominated for a Grammy Award for her spin-off musical album Tonite! At the Capri Lounge Loretta Haggers. Place wrote two of the songs on Tonite!: “Vitamin L” and “Baby Boy.” Both showed that she knew how to capitalize on the character’s personality and comic effects. “Vitamin L” is “love, you see, and without it, well, it’s hell.” (pronounced “hayull”)

“Baby Boy,” which charted on country radio, told the story of Loretta and Charlie Haggers (played by Graham Jarvis). The couple was forever trying to conceive (the joke being that she was half his age and the sex was non-stop). “Baby Boy” was mythical in that she announced “I just found out today that our baby’s on the way.”

Both albums featured A-list country and pop performers from the 1970’s. Dolly Parton, on whom the Loretta character was loosely based, provided backing vocals as well as the song “All I Can Do.” Emmylou Harris, Anne Murray and Nicolette Larson sang back up as well. Aimin’ to Please’s “Something to Brag About” became a hit duet with Willie Nelson and earned the pair a place on the music charts in 1977.

These songs are incredible honky-tonk numbers that endure. My vinyl has been played to death. Thank goodness for the Raven's Records re-release of the music!

“Mary Hartman” was one of the biggest cult television programs of all time. The show centered around the sex-crazed Haggers couple and the almost sexless Mary (Louise Lasser) and Tom Hartman (Greg Mullavey). Mary was Loretta’s best friend and Tom was Charlie’s best friend. Tom and Charlie worked together at the plant in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio. Loretta never really did make the big time, but she did have marginal success. In one episode, Loretta makes an appearance on “The Dinah Shore Show.” She was talking about all of the people who had helped her along her way. During a break, she was told that some of those people were Jews. After that she referred to Jews as “them that what killed our Lord.” The host quickly signaled to cut to commercial (Shore was Jewish in real life).

Maybe this explains why Loretta never became a “Super Star.” There are sound files from the Dinah episode on the MKP Sounds page.

“Mary Hartman” sort of ended when Louise Lasser left the show in 1977, however the remaining cast stayed on for one more year to film “Forever Fernwood.” The series ended with Loretta and Charlie finally getting the child that they had always wanted. Of course, being satire, the birth was a multiple birth (I think that it was quintuplets, however memory fails me-this was before VCR’s were common in American homes). I've added a whole lot of "MH2" stuff on the "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and Mary Kay Place Place sites.

Beyond working on this series, she wrote scripts for such TV sitcoms as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Phyllis,” and “M*A*S*H,” usually in collaboration with her professional partner (and future “Designing Women” producer) Linda Bloodworth. Mary Kay hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 1977 and was one of the rare talents to host and also appear as the musical guest (with Willie Nelson on the duet “Something to Brag About”).

In films since 1976’s Bound for Glory, Place has only occasionally been given a chance to shine on the big screen. The best of her early movie roles include Bernice, the washout nightclub singer who briefly replaces Liza Minnelli in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1976), and Meg, the reconstituted "child of the sixties" who desperately craves motherhood in The Big Chill (1983). She is surely best remembered in film for this role as the movie was a huge box office success. She also had a terribly funny moment in the Burt Reynolds vehicle Starting Over. As the first woman whom he dates after a divorce, Mary Kay played a blind date who was just a bit too zealous. She practically knocks Burt down in the elevator in her building in a last ditch attempt to make him fall for her. Instead, she just falls on him.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Place appeared in a number of television movies and a starring role in the 1992 Kurt Russell and Martin Short movie Captain Ron. 1994 saw her return to television in the recurring role of Camille Cherski on “My So Called Life.” She had the role of Dot Black in Francis Ford Coppola’s John Grisham’s The Rainmaker in 1997. While not a showy role at all, Place had a sort of white trash dignity playing the mother of a boy with a terminal illness. When Matt Damon, playing fresh-out-of-law school attorney Rudy Baylor, joins the fight against the evil insurance behemoth, you can guess that David slays Goliath. She worked with Claire Danes in both “My So Called Life” and The Rainmaker. In 1996 Place had a great role as “Baby Saver,” Gail Stoney against Laura Dern’s Ruth Stoops in Citizen Ruth. Gail kind of kidnaps Ruth in order to prevent Ruth from aborting her baby and to convert her to that zealous form of anti-abortion Christianity. This film made the born-again Christians look bad, but in the spirit of equal time, the pro-choice folks end up looking just as terrible as the Bible-thumpers. While Ruth is a drug addled mess, you can’t help but root for her.

In 1998, Place got laughs as Joyce, the mother of the character Pecker in John Waters’ movie of that name. But I think that her best film work was in the tiny 1996 gem Manny and Lo. This little movie might have been just a throwaway had Ms. Place not been the wacky centerpiece. She plays the matronly Elaine, who would love to have a child and works in a maternity shop, but never married and is past her child-bearing years. Place was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her work in Manny & Lo.

In addition to the aforementioned accomplishments, Mary Kay Place has also directed episodes of such series as the irreverent HBO sitcom “Dream On,” NBC’s “Friends,” and “Baby Boom.” Mary Kay provided voices for Fox’s “King of the Hill.” In an episode in which Peggy Hill competes in the Mrs. Heimlich County Pageant, she played both a competitor and the coordinator of the pageant.

She was seen in the incredibly inventive Being John Malkovich as the receptionist with a reception problem, Floris. While the whole movie was a joy, Mary Kay's nonsensical dialog was the highlight of the film for me (yes, I'm biased). Right on the heels of that Oscar-nominated film came her work in Girl, Interrupted. Ms. Place stood out in her tiny role as Mrs. Gilcrest. While not in any scenes together, this marked the third time that Mary Kay had done a film with one of her former “So Called Life” co-stars. First it was Claire Danes in The Rainmaker, second with Bess Armstrong in Pec
ker and here it was Jared Leto (in a terrible/terrific wig).

In 2000 Mary Kay co-directed Don Henley’s video for “Taking You Home.” Also in 2000, she had a small part in her second Lisa Krueger movie (after Manny and Lo) Committed, with actress Heather Graham. I'm just waiting for that elusive role that will bring her an Oscar nod. She is truly the most talented character actress working.

She did have a hugely successful turn in 2001 as the United States Surgeon General on NBC’s critically and commercially successful show “The West Wing.” The character returned for two more episodes in 2004. In 2002, Place had a sizable role in the Reese Witherspoon movie Sweet Home Alabama as Witherspoon's character’s mother, “Pearl Smooter.” That same year she was also in Human Nature starring Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette and A Woman's a Helluva Thing with Penelope Ann Miller.

2002 also saw the release of the film in which Place buddies up with Albert Brooks in the dark comedy My First Mister. The story focuses on a developing relationship between an isolated, rebellious 18-year-old (Leelee Sobieski) and an engaging older man (Brooks). Place plays Brooks’ best friend. The film marks the directorial debut for “Chicago Hope’s” Christine Lahti.

In the original mini-series for PBS’s Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” which aired in the early 1990’s, Place had a self-referential moment as a Maupin character during the “Mary Hartman” era in which the series is set. Laura Linney's character often watched “Mary Hartman.” Showtime picked up the “Tales” franchise, but Place was not in the second installment. She did have a role in the third mini-series, “Further Tales of the City” (2001), which featured her in the role of “Prue Giroux.” Ms. Place has one of the show’s great lines when her character (a socialite and a bit of an air-head) confuses an invitation to see the famous Shroud of Turin for a Broadway type show. She asks co-star Bruce McCulloch, “Who’s in that?” Mary Kay’s character gets involved with a mysterious and mesmerizing guy who ultimately drives the plot to its climax. She even gets a love scene in this show, which is great to see after the many, many years it’s been since she and Graham Jarvis rollicked in the Haggers’ bedroom set.

On Friday, May 9, 2003, the University of Tulsa chapter of Phi Beta Kappa inducted honorary and/or alumni members who have attained scholarly or artistic distinction in their fields. This year the chapter inducted Mary KayPlace, eminent actress, as alumna member. Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious undergraduate honors organization.

In 2006, Place had a recurring role in HBO’s show “Big Love” playing the mother of (Chloë Sevigny's character) Nikki. In 2010 Place was nominated for another Emmy Award for the character Adaleen Grant.

Lily Tomlin and Mary Kay Place were in development for the an HBO series, “12 Miles of Bad Road,” from writer-producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Bloodworth-Thomason wrote television scripts with Ms. Place in the 1970s. This show was never aired, although there are filmed episodes somewhere out there.

She continues to appear in numerous episodic television roles, and has established herself as a go-to actress for the "mother" character time and time again.

She has never married nor has had children.

To finish up here, I've included a couple of items sent in from folks who found the MKP Place and who knew her or her mother, who was a teacher. Thanks to those who have provided these wonderful anecdotes and memories.

You bet I will let you place my experience of your site.
It was when I was in 3rd grade at Sydney Lanier Elementary School in Tulsa,

My art teacher was one of the most priceless women that I had ever known.
In fact in a way I contribute my life to her (tell you more about that

Her name was Mrs. Place. I can still picture her today. In class one day
we were creating some sort of pottery when through the classroom door walked
in a very lovely lady. At first none of the kids knew who she was. At that
time Mrs. Place walked to the lady and gave her a big hug. She turned to
the class and informed us that the lady was her daughter, Mary Kay Place, an
actress that has been in a lot of movies and T.V. shows. Mind you that this
occurred in the year 1977, so Mary Kay had already done a lot of work.
Mrs. Place stopped the class projects so that we could visit with Mary Kay
and get some autographs. Just please don't ask me where that is today. For
God's sake it was over 23 years ago.

It was really neat for a bunch of 8-year-olds from Oklahoma to meet a
genuine movie star. Sadly we never got to spend any more time with Mary Kay
after that day but the time that we did share was a moment in time that will
always be a highlight in my life.

Now to the part of owing my life to Mrs. Place.

When I was in 3rd grade I had become very ill. The classes that I had prior
to art was taught by a Miss Pruitt, which was 3 hours long. That day I had
been feeling very sick and had a head ache that made me cry. Miss Pruitt
would not allow me to go see the school nurse, so I toughed it out. Finally
when I went to art class I had been at my seat where I was in a lot of pain.
I eventually passed out on the table. That's when Mrs. Place awoke me and
asked how bad I was feeling. I replied to the fact of "terrible". She took
me by the hand and walked me to the nurses office.

Later that day after I had gone to the E.R., I had found out that I had
Viral Meningitis.

If you are not sure what that is, it is the inflammation of the membranes of
the spinal cord or brain.

The Dr. stated that if I had waited till school was out that it could have
developed to the point of no recovery.

While in the hospital I received a care package from the school. It was
from my art class which Mrs. Place had initiated.

Now you see why I have such high regard for Mrs. Place and her wonderful

Always a fan of the Places',

David Foote
3rd grade student of Mrs. Place 1977


I have known Mary Kay since Nathan Hale High School in Tulsa. "Phil Place's little sister" was funny and charming and real even then. I have never written a letter to a fan club of any kind in my life; but, I have been meaning to write her since Mary Hartman (doubled) and have tried to see every one of her movies.

Say "hello" to her for me and give her my love and my praise. A nice person makes it --- it sort of renews your faith in life.

Bob Rainwater

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