We have just learned of the passing of beautiful actress/comedienne Cara Williams (Bernice Kamiat, (1925-2021), who died tantalizingly close to the coveted century mark at the age of 96. Williams was best remembered as a sit-com star, having co-starred in the TV classic Pete and Gladys (1960-62) with Harry Morgan, and then her own The Cara Williams Show (1964-65). She was also the wife of Drew Barrymore’s dad John Drew Barrymore (son of John Barrymore) and the mother of John Blyth Barrymore (more on that extended family here). That’s far from all that’s notable about her however.
Williams was the daughter of Brooklyn Eagle scribe Benjamin “Benny” Kamiat. Her mom worked in a beauty salon next to the Albee Theatre, which was located near what is now the Fulton Mall. Williams spent hours in that famous cinema and former vaudeville temple while her mom worked, and that is how she got up an ambition to be a performer herself. When her parents split up, Cara and her mom moved to L.A., where Cara attended the Hollywood Professional School. She was still in her mid-teens when she began acting in films and on radio in the early ’40s. Her first screen part was in the Hopalong Cassidy western Wide Open Town (1941). You can also see her in Girls’ Town (1942), Laura (1944), Elia Kazan’s Boomerang (1947), Knock On Any Door (1949), Red Skelton’s The Great Diamond Robbery (1954), The Helen Morgan Story (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), and Danny Kaye’s The Man from Diner’s Club (1963).
TV worked included numerous appearances Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1956-60), and the plum role of Gladys on Pete and Gladys (1960-62), a spin-off of Spring Byington’s December Bride. The casting of Williams as Gladys was a bit of a gag. Her character was never seen on December Bride but constantly referred to be her husband, short, balding, homely Harry Morgan. His unprepossessing appearance, compared with the distinctly unglamorous name of Gladys, had audiences picturing quite a different for Pete than the gorgeous Cara Williams. (Upon reflection this background might provide a partial explanation for the otherwise fairly bewildering Mrs. Columbo — there was precedent for such a thing). Still her character was scatterbrained in the tradition of Gracie Allen, Jane Ace, Lucille Ball etc etc etc and presumably that’s how a looker like her wound up with Pete.
Her next vehicle, The Cara Williams Show was created by Keefe Brasselle, best remembered today for playing the title character in The Eddie Cantor Story. It paired Williams with Frank Aletter, who’d previously starred in the sitcom Bringing Up Buddy. They played a married couple who work at a big corporation — but must hide their marital status or risk termination. Jack “I’m Just a Bill”) Sheldon played their funny, hip neighbor.
The Cara Williams Show only lasted one season, but Williams had a parachute. The year of its debut she had married fellow actor Asher Dann, who was soon to abandon show biz for a more lucrative career in real estate. Dann, like Williams, was from Brooklyn. (I suspect I’m distantly related to him — his surname is rather rare, and my 3rd great grandmother was a Dann as well). Williams became an interior designer in her later years, but she didn’t retire from acting entirely right away. She returned for the soapy melodrama film Doctors Wives (1971), with the dizzying cast of Dyan Cannon, Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, Carroll O’Connor, Rachel Roberts, Janice Rule, Richard Anderson (soon of The Six Million Dollar Man), and Ralph Bellamy. She had a recurring role on Rhoda in 1974, and played the title role in the TV movies The Ashes of Mrs. Reasoner (1976). You can see her in the Charles Bronson western White Buffalo (1977) and the Jack Palance crime drama The One Man Jury (1978). Her last role was in a TV movie called In Security (1982) directed by The Bob Newhart Show‘s Peter Bonerz and featuring John Randolph and a young Annie Potts.