Barrie Chase: Of Musicals and “Mad, Mad World”

Dancer and actress Barrie Chase (b. 1933) has MANY notable screen credits but of COURSE we are going to foreground her memorable turn opposite Dick Shawn in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), in which she performed a sort of robot style “Twist” and delivered a beatnik utterance of the line, “Hey, Sylvester, it’s your mom“. Being best known for this among some folks probably drives her up the wall, but hey that’s show biz!

Chase spent her first six years in the Kings Point section of Great Neck (a stone’s throw from where I currently live), where she first began dance training at the young age of three, under the ballet mistress of City Opera. Her father was the novelist and screenwriter Borden Chase, known for such western classics as Red River (1948), Winchester ’73 (1950), and Bend in the River (1952). Her mother was pianist Lee Keith. Most of her childhood was spent in Hollywood. Her screen credits begin at age 19. Normally she danced in chorus parts or specialty numbers; occasionally she had the odd line or two. You can see her in such movies as Scaramouche (1952), Road to Bali (1952), Hans Christen Andersen (1952), The I Don’t Care Girl (1953), Call Me Madam (1953), White Christmas (1954), Brigadoon (1954), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Kismet (1955), The Conqueror (1955), Silk Stockings (1957), Pal Joey (1957), and Mardi Gras (1958). As musicals began to die out, she got roles in films like The George Raft Story (1961), Cape Fear (1962), and The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).

The Colgate Comedy Hour was her first tv variety credit in 1954. She worked as an assistant choreographer to Jack Cole, which brought her to the attention of Fred Astaire who danced with her on four TV specials (the pair also dated, despite the fact that Chase was 34 years his junior). Chase also performed on Kraft Music Hall, The Red Skelton Hour, The Jerry Lewis Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Donald O’Connor Show, and The Hollywood Palace. She retired from show biz in the early ’70s.

For more on variety entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube