Rae Allen, Tony winner and TV mainstay, dies at 95
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Rae Allen, Tony winner and TV mainstay, dies at 95
In a varied career, she had memorable roles in “Damn Yankees” and on “Seinfeld” and was nominated for three Tonys. She later became a director.

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK, NY.- Rae Allen, a Tony Award-winning actress who was seen in both the stage and film versions of the hit musical comedy “Damn Yankees,” and whose many television roles included a world-weary unemployment counselor to George Costanza on “Seinfeld” and Tony Soprano’s aunt on “The Sopranos,” died Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 95.

Her death, at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement home, was confirmed by her niece Betty Cosgrove.

Allen made her Broadway debut in 1948 and her big splash seven years later, when she was cast as sports reporter Gloria Thorpe in “Damn Yankees," the story of a middle-aged Washington Senators fan who makes a Faustian bargain to become a slugger named Joe Hardy and help his team keep the hated Yankees from winning the pennant. She led a group of nimbly dancing Senators in celebration of Hardy’s beneficial impact on the team with the showstopping song “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo.” (“Who came along in a puff of smoke? Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”)

Allen earned her first Tony Award nomination for that performance, which she reprised in the 1958 movie version, her first film. She received her second Tony nomination in 1965 for Jean Anouilh’s play “Traveller Without Luggage,” and won a Tony six years later, as best featured actress, for Paul Zindel’s “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little,” in which she played a neighbor in a story about the relationship between three neurotic sisters.

“The awful neighbors are also given precisely the right clumsy boorishness by Rae Allen and Bill Macy,” Clive Barnes wrote in his review in The New York Times. He called their scenes “among the most entertaining of the evening.”

Her comedic skills were also on display in a memorable two-part episode of “Seinfeld.” She played Lenore Sokol, a deadpan counselor skeptical about Costanza’s attempts to get an extension on his unemployment benefits, including his claim to have interviewed for a job as a latex salesman for a phony company, Vandelay Industries. She softens when he sees a photograph of her plain-looking daughter on her desk.

“This is your daughter? Costanza says. “My God! My God! I hope you don’t mind my saying she is breathtaking.”

She asks if he wants her phone number, but after they briefly date, her daughter dumps him because he has no prospects.

Allen later had roles in “A League of Their Own” (1992), as the mother of the baseball players portrayed by Geena Davis and Lori Petty, and the science-fiction film “Stargate” (1994), as a researcher. She was also seen on TV series including “Brooklyn Bridge” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

In four episodes of “The Sopranos” in 2004, she played Quintina Blundetto, aunt of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and mother of mobster Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi).

Steven Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on “The Sopranos,” wrote in an email that Allen was “acting royalty” who was “respected by everyone in the cast.”

Rae Julia Abruzzo was born July 3, 1926, in New York City. Her mother, Julia (Riccio) Abruzzo, was a seamstress and hairdresser. Her father, Joseph, was a chauffeur and an opera singer whose brothers performed in vaudeville. At 15, Rae played Buttercup in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore.”

After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1947, Allen started her Broadway career as a singer in the musical “Where’s Charley?” She followed that with a role in another musical, “Alive and Kicking.” Her next three shows, also musicals, were “Call Me Madam,” “The Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees,” all directed by Broadway luminary George Abbott, who became a mentor and father figure.

In the 1960s, Allen was in the Broadway productions of “Oliver!,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

By then, her television and film career had begun to take off; in the 1970s, she also started directing. In 1975 she was named director of the Stage West Theater Company in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in 1991 she directed a revival of “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little” at the Zephyr Theatre in Los Angeles.

She twice directed productions of “Cyrano de Bergerac” — the first in 1978 at the Long Beach Center Theater, in Long Beach, California, starring Stacy Keach, and the second in 2010 at the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica, starring John Colella.

Reviewing Allen’s staging of Henrik Ibsen’s “When We Dead Awaken” at Stage West in 1977, Barnes wrote that it had “speed, conviction and perception.”

She also ran acting workshops and was a personal coach. In her 1970s, she received bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts degrees in directing from New York University.

Allen’s marriages to John Allen and Herbert Harris ended in divorce. No immediate family members survive.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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