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Wednesday, October 21, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Actress Shirley Booth, Star Of TV's `Hazel,' Dies

AP: Los Angeles Times

CHATHAM, Mass. - Shirley Booth, who won two Emmys as the bossy maid Hazel in the 1960s TV comedy of the same name and Tony and Oscar awards for stage and screen versions of "Come Back, Little Sheba," has died.

Ms. Booth was 94, according to her sister, Jean Coe. Reference books give her age as 85. She died Friday of natural causes at her home, said David Hunt of Nickerson Funeral Home.

She had been inactive for many years and had been living quietly and little noticed in this Cape Cod village.

Ms. Booth won three Tonys in her stage career. Her best-known success came when she won a Tony and the New York Drama Critics Award as the lonely housewife Lola Delaney in a 1950 production of "Come Back, Little Sheba."

She won the Academy Award, the New York Film Critics Award, and the Cannes Festival acting award for the 1952 film version of the play, in which she played opposite Burt Lancaster.

Ms. Booth also won Tonys for "Goodbye, My Fancy" in 1949 and "The Time of the Cuckoo" in 1953.

She gained wide popularity for her role in "Hazel," which ran from 1961 to 1966, first on NBC, then on CBS.

"Hazel" was based on the Saturday Evening Post cartoons of Ted Key. Ms. Booth played a maid who had an integral role in lawyer George Baxter's family, regularly pre-empting his authority because she was always right and always knew what needed to be done.

She won two Emmy Awards for the role. In 1973, she returned to TV for a brief run in the situation comedy "A Touch of Grace."

Born in New York as Thelma Booth Ford, she began acting on the amateur stage at age 12. Her professional debut was in 1923, in a Hartford production of "The Cat and the Canary."

"I liked Hazel the first time I read one of the scripts, and I could see all the possibilities of the character - the comedy would take care of itself," she said in 1963. "My job was to give her heart."

"Hazel never bores me," she said. "Besides, she's my insurance policy."

In a 1971 interview, she said she would be perfectly content to live in Cape Cod with her pet poodle Prego and her memories of William Baker, the Army corporal she married in 1943, who died eight years later of heart disease.

"I'm devoted to privacy," she said, explaining that "you give so much energy on the stage you need time to recharge."

Baker had been her second husband. Her first was Ed Gardner, host of radio's old "Duffy's Tavern," on which she played the light-hearted Miss Duffy. They divorced two years after their 1938 marriage.

Coe said her sister, who was legally blind, spent most of the last year at home recuperating from a broken hip.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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