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‘Gomer Pyle,’ ‘The Conversation’ Actress Was 88

‘Gomer Pyle,’ ‘The Conversation’ Actress Was 88

Elizabeth MacRae, who played girlfriends of Gomer Pyle and Festus Haggen on television and a woman who seduces Gene Hackman‘s surveillance expert in The Conversation, has died. She was 88.

MacRae died Monday in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she was raised, a local funeral home announced.

MacRae showed up as Lou-Ann Poovie on 15 episodes of the CBS comedy Gomer Pyle: USMC during its final three seasons (1966-69). She was signed to work just one episode, “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” on the Jim Nabors starrer but impressed producers enough to stick around for more.

Earlier, she portrayed April Clomley, the girlfriend of deputy marshal Festus (Ken Curtis), on CBS’ Gunsmoke on four installments from 1962-64.

In The Conversation (1974), written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, MacRae played Meredith, who dances with Hackman’s Harry Caul in his apartment, sleeps with him and then swipes one of his audiotapes. The actress was among the cast and crew who went to Cannes when the film screened at the festival.

From left: Elizabeth MacRae, Jim Nabors and Carol Burnett on “Corporal Carol,” a 1967 episode of ‘Gomer Pyle.’

Courtesy Everett Collection

Elizabeth Herndon MacRae was born on Feb. 22, 1936, in Columbia, South Carolina, and raised in Fayetteville. Her father, James, was an attorney who later became a Cumberland County Superior Court judge.

After graduating from the college-prep school Holton-Arms in Washington, MacRae traveled to Atlanta to audition for the role of Joan of Arc in Saint Joan (1957). She didn’t get the part (Jean Seberg did), but director Otto Preminger told her she had “intuitive talent” and encouraged her to improve.

In New York, she studied acting with Uta Hagen at the Herbert Berghof Studio and drawing and painting at the Art Students League. “Daddy gave me $100 and told me to come home when it was gone,” she once said. “But I got a job modeling within a week and started studying drama and speech to lose my Southern accent.”

MacRae was hired for episodes of such shows as The Verdict Is Yours, Rendezvous, Naked City, Route 66, Maverick and The Asphalt Jungle before appearing in her first two movies, Everything’s Ducky and Love in a Goldfish Bowl, in 1961.

She then appeared in the Kirk Douglas film For Love or Money (1963), starred as a striptease artist in Wild Is My Love (1963) and was the voice of Ladyfish, the animated love interest of Don Knotts‘ character, in The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964).

MacRae arrived on Gomer Pyle as Loo-Ann, an inept lounge singer from North Carolina.

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She had “answered a call to read, and I was very deliberately showing no Southern accent,” she recalled in a 2015 interview. “Director Lee Philips walked by. He knew me and came in and asked how his favorite ‘Southern belle’ was. The casting director asked me if I was from North Carolina and could I do a Southern accent. He next asked If I could sing. I said I couldn’t. He told me I had the part.”

In 1967, Philips directed her on The Andy Griffith Show episode “Big Brother.”

MacRae also worked on several daytime soap operas during her career, among them General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, Search for Tomorrow, All My Children, Guiding Light and Another World.

Her résumé also included guest spots on Surfside 6, 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, The Untouchables, Dr. Kildare, Burke’s Law, Rawhide, The Fugitive, The Virginian, Mannix, Barnaby Jones and Rhoda.

Her third husband, banker Charles Day Halsey Jr., whom she wed in 1969, died March 29.

She was married to Nedrick Young — a blacklisted actor and writer who co-wrote Jailhouse Rock and Inherit the Wind and shared an Oscar for the screenplay for The Defiant Ones — from 1965 until his death from a heart ailment in 1968.

Donations in her memory can be made to the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society or St. John’s Episcopal Church.

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