Florence Stanley

Veteran actress with a voice that was 'a cross between Bette Davis and Donald Duck'
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Florence Stanley, actress: born Chicago 1 July 1920; married 1954 Martin Newman (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 3 October 2003.

The actress Florence Stanley was popular with British television audiences for her roles as Bernice Fish on Barney Miller and the fearsome Judge Margaret W. Wilbur on My Two Dads. She notched up more than 100 film and television appearances over six decades.

Resplendent, with quirky humour and a raspy voice, Stanley lent her voice to the character of Wilhelmina Packard for Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) and surfaced as the dour dry-cleaning lady in Down with Love (2003), a modern-day Doris Day/Rock Hudson flick in which the ultimate catch (Ewan McGregor) meets his match in Renée Zellweger.

Florence Stanley was born in Chicago in 1920. A graduate of Northwestern University, she was active in local theatre, joining stock before travelling to New York on a tour of The Amazing Doctor Clitterhouse. "I was always ready to travel in five minutes," she said. "Give me the greasepaint and I'm ready."

Although she was a veteran of the theatre by 1950, it wasn't until the early days of television that Stanley found fame, appearing in shows including a Studio One production of The Taming of the Shrew (1947) and Zane Grey Theatre (1948).

"It was my voice that got me work," she said in 2002:

I kinda wished it was my looks early on but they fade and as time went on I realised my voice, a cross between Bette Davis

on 60 a day and Donald Duck, would always keep a roof over my head.

On Broadway, Stanley replaced Bea Arthur as Vente, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof (1964); the show ran for over 3,000 performances and, when in 1972 the show returned, she was in demand to reprise her role.

By the 1960s, Stanley had found a niche in movies playing character roles in such films as Up the Down Staircase (1967), a documentary-style drama which dealt with the problems that faced a idealistic young schoolteacher (Sandy Dennis) assigned to a rough school in a slum area.

In 1971, the director Mike Nichols cast Stanley as Pearl in Neil Simon's Tony-winning The Prisoner of Second Avenue. Three years later she joined Jack Lemmon, Anne Bancroft and Sylvester Stallone in the promising but over-sentimental film adaptation.

She followed this with appearances in Day of the Dolphin (1973) with George C. Scott, and as Mrs Greta Gould, the second female lead in The Fortune (1975). Set in the 1920s, this was a tale of two hustlers (Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson) plotting to procure the fortune of an heiress (Stockard Channing). Stanley and Warren Beatty became firm friends during filming, and in 1998 he cast her as his bullish secretary, Dobish, opposite Halle Berry in Bulworth.

"Warren Beatty was at his best when directing Bulworth," she said. "Not since Reds [1981], had I seen Warren pull off something so ambitious and so intelligent - I was so thrilled to have been in it."

In 1981, Stanley featured off-Broadway in Fools, followed by What's Wrong with Love? and The Apple Doesn't Fall . . .

The kind of roles Florence Stanley was offered guaranteed her longevity. She joined the brash Bette Midler and Shelley Long in the comedy caper Outrageous Fortune (1987), supported the heart-throb Michael Madsen in Trouble Bound (1992) and endured a cold Canadian winter on location for Trapped in Paradise (1994), a modern-day "Three Stooges" comedy starring Nicholas Cage, Richard B. Shull and Jon Lovitz.

In 1998, Stanley took the lead with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Will Speck's comedy short Culture, after which she returned to her first love, the theatre.

Television audiences remember Florence Stanley for her role from 1975 in Barney Miller, which showcased oddball goings on at a New York City precinct house. Stanley played Bernice Fish, the wife of Abe Vigoda's character, Detective Phil Fish. The character was such a hit with viewers that in 1977 a spin-off called Fish resurfaced in which the couple reared five foster-children.

Her portrayal of the gravelly-voiced Judge Margaret Wilbur in My Two Dads (1987), screened on the BBC, also received much praise, as did her role in Dinosaurs (1991).

Her last screen appearances were in According to Spencer (2001) with Jesse Bradford, the television shows Nurses and Dharma and Greg (both 2002) and the current cinematic hit Down with Love.

Howard Mutti-Mewse