I am amused by an internet reference which claims that Barbara “Bobo” Lewis (1926-1998) is best known for her role as Midge Smoot on Shining Time Station (1989-1995), and for the precise same reason I would be amused if somebody said that Ringo Starr or George Carlin were best known for being on Shining Time Station: hilariously untrue to an absurd extent, and you would only think it were the case if you were below a certain age.
I certainly first knew this ubiquitous, droll and tiny character actress from frequent guest shots on shows like Bewitched, That Girl, Love American Style, The Monkees, and Gomer Pyle USMC. She has a hilarious turn in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) as the wife of bi-plane pilot Ben Blue (she’s the one who crosses herself when the plane is about to take off). She’s also in Billy Wilder’s Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), the Jerry Lewis pictures Way…Way Out (1966) and Which Way to the Front? (1970), Merchant-Ivory’s The Wild Party (1975) and Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Lovers Like Us (1975) with Yves Montand and Catherine Deneuve.
In 1978 Lewis won a Drama Desk Award for her performance in the Goodman Theatre’s stage adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working with Patti Lupone, Joe Mantegna and Lynne Thigpen. Her many years as an actor with Circle Rep brought her back to Broadway in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 in 1987. She was also in the 1973 Broadway revival of The Women. Hirschfeld drew her!
Meanwhile, Lewis continued to have small supporting roles in movies big and small including the Village People picture Can’t Stop the Music (1980) directed by Nancy Walker; Arthur (1981) with Dudley Moore; the horror movies The Nesting (1981) and Blood Bride (1982); Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (1988); Her Alibi (1989) with Tom Selleck and Paulina Porizkova; Miami Blues (1990); Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994); One True Thing (1998) with Meryl Streep, Rene Zellwegger and William Hurt; and Just the Ticket (1998) with Andy Garcia and Andie MacDowell.
The fact that Lewis was from Miami, had those huge brown eyes, and “Bobo” is often a Spanish nickname, leads me to speculate, perhaps rashly, that she was part Latina? On the other hand, her characters were sometimes Jewish, and of course one can always be both, and a million other things besides. She moved to New York when she was only a teenager in order to be an actress. Prior to her first screen credit (a 1962 episode of The Interns), she worked widely in regional and off-Broadway theatre. The year before she died she was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for her performance in the Goodman Theatre’s production of Light Up the Sky. Her relatively early death, at age 72, was due to cancer.
After Lynne Thigpen’s passing in 2003, the Lynne Thigpen-Bobo Lewis Foundation was started to help aspiring theatre artists. The name is intended to commemorate the fact that Lewis had mentored Thigpen early in her career.
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