‘Odd Couple,’ ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ Actress Was 95 – The Hollywood Reporter

Joan Hotchkis, who appeared as Oscar Madison’s girlfriend on ABC’s The Odd Couple and in films including Breezy and Ode to Billie Joe before becoming a playwright, screenwriter and feminist performance artist, has died. She was 95.

Hotchkis died Sept. 27 of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles, her daughter, Paula Chambers, announced.

A member of The Actors Studio, Hotchkis played the wife of William Windom’s James Thurber-like cartoonist on the high-concept NBC comedy My World and Welcome to It in 1969-70 and the lascivious Lydia on the five-days-a-week syndicated sitcom The Life and Times of Eddie Roberts in 1980.

In 1974, Hotchkis wrote her first play, Legacy, about a day when an upper-class housewife suffers a mental and emotional breakdown. She starred in the one-woman drama, directed by noted Method acting teacher Eric Morris, at Actors Studio West in Los Angeles.

Hotchkis then adapted Legacy for a 1975 film adaptation, returning to star while adding actors to portray other characters she played in the stage version. The feature was directed by Karen Arthur, shot by cinematographer John Bailey and edited by Carole Littleton.

With Morris, she co-wrote a now-classic acting handbook, No Acting Please, first published in 1977.

Hotchkis recurred on the first two seasons of The Odd Couple in 1971 as Dr. Nancy Cunningham, the classy girlfriend of Jack Klugman’s sloppy New York sportswriter.

She then appeared opposite William Holden and Kay Lenz in Breezy (1973), directed by Clint Eastwood, and played Anna “Mama” Hartley in Ode to Billie Joe (1976), directed by Max Baer Jr. and starring Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor.

Jack Klugman, Joan Hotchkis, and Tony Randall in THE ODD COUPLE, 1970-75.From left: Jack Klugman, Joan Hotchkis and Tony Randall in a promotional photo from ‘The Odd Couple’
Courtesy Everett Collection

Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1927, Hotchkis was the last surviving child of Preston Hotchkis and Katharine Bixby. As chairman of the Southland Water Committee, her father advocated for the transfer of Colorado River water to Southern California, which would prove to be a boon for the region.

After earning a B.A. in psychology from Smith College and a master’s in early childhood education from Bank Street College of Education, Hotchkis taught nursery school in New York “for about 15 minutes,” she said.

While home for the holidays in 1954, she auditioned for the leading role of Lizzie in The Rainmaker at the Players Ring theaer in West Hollywood and got the part.

Returning to New York, Hotchkis became a member of The Actors Studio, where she studied with Lee Strasberg. While shooting a commercial, she met director Bob Foster; they married in 1958 and had Paula.

Hotchkis played Myra on the CBS soap opera The Secret Storm that year and debuted on Broadway in 1960 in Advise and Consent opposite Conrad Bain, Ed Begley and Richard Kiley.

After divorcing in 1967, Hotchkis returned with her daughter to L.A., where she joined Actors Studio West and appeared on three episodes of Bewitched.

Throughout the 1970s, she guest-starred on series including Lou GrantCharlie’s AngelsMannixThe New Dick Van Dyke ShowSt. ElsewhereMarcus Welby and Barnaby Jones and appeared in the films The Late Liz (1971) and Old Boyfriends (1979).

Shortly after production on the Legacy film was completed, Hotchkis was diagnosed with meningioma, and she had the non-cancerous brain tumor surgically removed.

She then concentrated on the stage, appearing in Cowboy Jack StreetMadame Irma and The Grace of Mary Traverse in L.A. and performing with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

She also portrayed Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie four times, twice in L.A., once in Nashville and once in Cincinnati.

Inspired by a “writing for performance” workshop taught by Rachel Rosenthal in 1990, Hotchkis became a performance artist.Joan Hotchkis in TEARSHEETS: LETTERS I DIDN'T SEND HOME.

Joan Hotchkis starred in 1990 in her first performance art piece, ‘Tearsheets: Letters I Didn’t Send Home,’ at Highways Performance Space,

In Tearsheets: Letters I Didn’t Send Home, directed by Steven Kent, she portrayed several characters — men, women, children, even a cow — in a multimedia solo effort that exposed the sexism and brutality beneath the surface of her upper-class childhood.

Hotchkis debuted Tearsheets at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, then toured with it throughout the Southwest before bringing it to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1992.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that the actress “borrowed moments from three generations of her family’s history … and turned an authentic late-19th century, early-20th century dynasty into a late-20th century, one-person feminist performance piece.”

She told the newspaper that while the show presented her view of her family’s history, it was more about exposing “California cattle-ranching and dynasty values … I look at how patriarchy works on children and women and how it tries to have people disassociate themselves from their bodies.”

In 1996, Hotchkis, then 68, returned to the performance art world with Elements of Flesh, or Screwing Saved My Ass, a tour de force about aging and sexuality again produced at Highways Performance Space.

Her daughter noted that Hotchkis was “always interested in social justice, supporting progressive nonprofits and mentoring bright young women from underprivileged backgrounds.”

Donations in Hotchkis’ memory can be made to Highways Performance Space

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