Like many of her Alice contemporaries, Beth Howland began her professional career in New York as a Broadway actress and performed in such musical hits as "Company" and "Bye Bye, Birdie." Her transition over to television came in 1970 when she was invited for an audition for an upcoming guest role on a "Mary Tyler Moore" episode. Landing the part and a subsequent second appearance, prompted Beth to move from New York to California and pursue more work in television acting roles. That helped establish her name in Hollywood and lead the path to the future "Alice" series.
Elizabeth "Beth" Howland was born on May 28, 1941, and grew up in Boston Massachusetts . Growing up as an only child, she describes her early years as fat, lonely and shy. "I was the fattest child in the first grade. I played Santa Claus in the Christmas play. Everyone else got to wear a party dress. Probably scarred me for life." With a bit of prodding from a nun at her Catholic school, she developed a liking for acting and dancing in her later school years, prompting her to leave home at age 16 in search of fame and fortune. She and a dancer friend ended up in New York with next to no money at all. As she explains, "We were certainly the two most naive people who ever hit Manhattan. We knew about muggers. I mean, they had muggers in Boston... but in the hot New York summers we slept all night in Riverside Park and nothing happened to us."
Shortly afterward, Beth was hired as a dancer in "Bye Bye, Birdie," although she admits she really didn't want a dancing job. Her preference was acting and, like her later character, Vera, she wanted to be like Katharine Hepburn and considered her a role model. While on the set of "Bye Bye, Birdie," she met and soon married Michael J. Pollard, most notably of "Bonnie and Clyde" fame. Their short marriage lasted only six years but their union produced one daughter, named Holly. As Beth explains, "that was Michael's idea, calling her Holly. He had just done a scene for "Breakfast at Tiffany's" in which the girl is named Holly." With regards to her marriage, however, Beth generally says little, but did admit that "Michael is very sweet, but it all came too fast for him and us – his success in "Bonnie and Clyde" and I was jealous. Michael had read the most books of anyone I knew. He as also the first person I had ever dated."
After her marriage ended, she and Holly packed up and moved to California, where Beth, after doing her stint on "Mary Tyler Moore," landed roles in other shows, such as "Cannon," "Little House on the Prairie," and Bronk." In 1976 the call came for actors to audition for the new television series, "Alice." "I thought Vera was a difficult role. I found nothing to hook into, nothing tangible, but they hired me," she recalls. It was then that she realized her stay in California was not going to be temporary, so she purchased a home in Santa Monica and settled in for the long haul.
Her "Alice" colleagues always spoke well of her. Co-star Vic Tayback would often tease her, and she in turn retorted equally. "Hi, Bones," he'd say. "Hi, Tubs," came the response. Vic explained that "it's only because I like her so much that I tease her, and then she usually tops me." Polly Holliday said that "when she says, ‘How are you?' it's not a casual greeting, it's a real question." Linda Lavin noted that "neither of us is easy to know, but we became good, close friends. I admire her as an actress but even more for what she's accomplished as a single parent. I'm playing a role; Beth is a real-life Alice."
As she recalled during her Alice years, "I admit to being ambitious. My fantasy was always that what I wanted really was to get married again. I couldn't figure out why I didn't get married and spend my afternoons shopping.... Finally, after so much self-deception, I concede to myself that I am absorbed by my work. It's the most important thing in my life - my work and my daughter.... I thought I couldn't do it, raise a daughter alone, and just recently I realized that I had done it."
Today, Beth divides her time between California and New York and has been in a long term relationship with actor Charles Kimbrough. In recent years she has appeared in "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch," "Murder, She Wrote," "Chicken Soup For The Soul," and "The Tick," as well as reappearing on the Broadway stage for the special performance, "Company The Original Cast in Concert."
Beth Howland and daughter Holly, 1980.
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