Brandis Kemp, character actress and 'Fridays' original, dies at 76
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Brandis Kemp, character actress and 'Fridays' original, dies at 76
Kemp was the fashionably frizzy redhead in the sketch-comedy ensemble of “Fridays” (1980-82).

by Anita Gates

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- If you were looking for insight into the future in the 1980s, you probably wouldn’t want to pay $75 for a Creative Palm Reading.

In that recurring sketch on the late-night show “Fridays,” a chain-smoking, sometimes deranged psychic played by Brandis Kemp was sure to take one look at your palm and announce: “Things don’t look good, man. Not at all. Man, am I bummed!”

Kemp was the fashionably frizzy redhead in the sketch-comedy ensemble of “Fridays” (1980-82), ABC’s answer to “Saturday Night Live,” which also included Larry David, Michael Richards, Melanie Chartoff and Kemp’s husband, Mark Blankfield.

One season later, viewers of “AfterMASH” (1983-85), CBS’ “M*A*S*H” sequel, loved to hate her as Alma Cox, the bossy secretary at Colonel Potter and Corporal Klinger’s new hospital.

Kemp, known in private life as Sally Blankfield, died at her home in Los Angeles on July 4. She was 76. The cause was a brain tumor and complications of COVID-19, according to a statement released by her niece and two nephews.

The statement noted that Kemp died on Independence Day, when the full moon was in eclipse and fireworks were exploding. She “always knew how to make an exit,” it said.

Vivian Sally Kemp was born Feb. 1, 1944, in Palo Alto, California, one of three children of John Lloyd Kemp, a World War I Marine Corps veteran who died when she was 10, and Vida (Kernohan) Kemp, a hairdresser, who raised the children alone.

After high school, Sally, as she was known, attended San Jose State College, Stanford University (where she received an MFA in theater and literature) and the American Conservatory Theater acting school in San Francisco.

One early job was teaching speech classes for police officers and firefighters at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. By the time she moved to Los Angeles, she was a member of Low Moan Spectacular, a comedy troupe, and doing theater nationwide. She adopted the name Brandis because there was already a Sally Kemp in Actors Equity.

In the play “Bullshot Crummond” (1978), she played “the mistress and sometime daughter of the second-most-dangerous man in Europe,” as actor turned writer Gardner McKay explained in a review for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner. “You might leave the theater,” he suggested, “humming Brandis Kemp’s hideous, mocking laugh.”

Kemp spent two decades as a busy supporting actress (her character names included Bob’s Mother, Miss Reba and A.A. Woman No. 3). She made guest appearances on hit series including “The Golden Girls,” “E.R.,” “The Wonder Years,” “Designing Women” and “Perfect Strangers.”

Her films included “Surf II” (1984), a comedy about mutant zombies; “When a Man Loves a Woman” (1994), about love and alcoholism; and “Clifford” (1994), in which Martin Short played a 10-year-old. Her character was an annoyed airline passenger.

Her final screen role was in the 2006 television movie “The Theory of Everything” (not to be confused with the later film of the same name about Stephen Hawking).

She met Blankfield at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They married in 1972 and divorced in 1987.

She was always hands-on, actress Myra Turley, a longtime friend, recalled. Last year, when the stucco on her house needed to be redone, Kemp simply “taught herself how to stucco, got on a ladder and did it herself.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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