Rosemary Rice, an actress who found fame in the early days of television playing the perky oldest daughter, Katrin, on “Mama,” a beloved family show broadcast live on CBS for many years, died on Aug. 14 at her home in Stamford, Conn. She was 87.
Rosemary Rice, top left, pictured with the cast of “Mama.” Her flaxen good looks made her perfect for the wholesome but occasionally saucy Katrin.
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The cause was a heart attack, her son, John Merrell, said.
“Mama” was about the Hansens, a family of Norwegian immigrants facing the trials of life in San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century. The series was based on the book, “Mama’s Bank Account,” by Kathryn Forbes, which was also adapted as a play, a radio show and a 1948 movie, “I Remember Mama,” starring Irene Dunne as Mama and Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin. The television show was broadcast from 1949 to 1957, initially from a studio in Grand Central Terminal over the Oyster Bar.
“ ‘Mama’ was very important as the precursor of the domestic comedies to come,” said Robert Batscha, president of the Museum of Broadcasting, in 1985, when the museum held an exhibition of some of the show’s surviving episodes.
Ms. Rice’s flaxen good looks made her perfect for the wholesome but occasionally saucy Katrin. The show also starred Peggy Wood as the mother, Marta; Judson Laire as the father, Lars; Dick Van Patten as the brother, Nels; and Robin Morgan as the sister, Dagmar.
Katrin began each episode by flipping through a photo album and reminiscing to the audience, ending with the phrase, “But most of all, I remember Mama.”
“I literally grew up with the show,” Ms. Rice told The New York Times in 1985. “Since we spent five days a week together, we really were like a family. To the day he died I always called papa, ‘Papa.’ ”
Rosemary Rice was born on May 3, 1925, in Montclair, N.J. She appeared in Broadway shows like Gypsy Rose Lee’s 1943 comedy, “The Naked Genius,” and on the radio in soap operas and mystery shows. She married John B. Merrell in 1954 and released a handful of children’s records on Columbia. She also appeared at gatherings of “Mama” fans for decades.
“Mama” was recorded on kinescopes, most of which were later destroyed or reused. But Ms. Rice kept several for herself and donated them to the broadcasting museum (now the Paley Center for Media) for the 1985 exhibition.
Besides her son, Ms. Rice is survived by a daughter, Marcie Schonborn; a brother, Rogers; and three grandchildren.