Rae Allen, a Tony Award-winning actress who has appeared in both the stage and film versions of the hit musical comedy “Damn Yankees,” and whose many television roles include a world-weary unemployment consultant to the unemployed George Costanza on “Seinfeld” and Tony Soprano’s aunt on ‘The Sopranos’ passed away on Wednesday in Los Angeles. She was 95.
Her death, at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement home, was confirmed by her niece Betty Cosgrove.
Ms. Allen made her Broadway debut in 1948 and her big splash seven years later when she was cast as sportscaster Gloria Thorpe in “Damn Yankees, the story of a middle-aged Washington Senators fan who makes a Faustian bargain to buy a slugger.” named Joe Hardy and help his team stop the hated Yankees from winning the pennant, she led a group of deftly dancing senators in honor of Hardy’s beneficial influence on the team with the spectacular song “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal, Mo” (“Who Came past it in a puff of smoke? Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, Mo.”)
Ms. Allen earned her first Tony Award nomination for that performance, which she reprized in the 1958 film version, her first film. She received her second Tony nomination in 1965 for Jean Anouilh’s play “Traveller Without Luggage,” and won the Tony six years later, as Best 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 also get just the right clumsy rudeness from Rae Allen and Bill Macy,” Clive Barnes wrote in his DailyExpertNews review. He called their scenes “one of the most entertaining of the evening.”
Her comedic skills were also featured in a memorable two-part episode of “Seinfeld.” She played Lenore Sokol, a deadpan adviser who was skeptical of George Costanza’s attempts to get his unemployment benefit deferred, including his claim that he interviewed for a job as a latex salesman for a bogus company, Vandelay Industries. She softens when he sees a photo of her plain-looking daughter on her desk.
‘This is your daughter? says George. “My God! My God! I hope you don’t mind me saying it. She’s breathtaking.”
She asks if he wants her phone number, but after they go on a short date, her daughter dumps him because he has no prospects.
Ms. Allen later had roles in “A League of Their Own” (1992), as the mother of the baseball players played by Geena Davis and Lori Petty,” and the science fiction film “Stargate” (1994), as a researcher. seen in TV series including ‘Brooklyn Bridge’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.
In four episodes of “The Sopranos” in 2004, she played Quintina Blundetto, the aunt of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and the mother of mobster Tony Blundetto, played by Steve Buscemi.
Steven Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri in “The Sopranos,” wrote in an email that Ms. Allen “acted like royalty” who was “respected by everyone in the cast.”
Rae Julia Abruzzo was born on July 3, 1926 in Brooklyn. Her mother, Julia (Riccio) Abruzzo, was a seamstress and hairdresser. Her father, Joseph, was a chauffeur and opera singer whose brothers performed in vaudeville. At age 15, Rae starred Buttercup in a Greenwich Village production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore”.
After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1947, Ms. Allen’s Broadway career as a singer in the musical “Where’s Charley?” She followed that up 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 celebrity George Abbott, who became a mentor and father figure.
In the 1960s, Mrs. Allen was in the Broadway productions of “Oliver!”, “Fiddler on the Roof” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
By this time, her television and film career was starting to take off; she also started directing in the 1970s. 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 Theater in Los Angeles.
She has 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 Theater in Santa Monica, starring John Colella in the lead role. †
Reviewing Ms. Allen’s staging of Ibsens’ “When We Dead Awaken” at Stage West in 1977, Mr. Barnes wrote that it had “speed, conviction and perception.”
She also gave acting workshops and was a personal coach. In her 1970s, she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine arts directing from New York University.
Mrs. Allen’s marriages to John Allen and Herbert Harris ended in divorce. No immediate relatives survive.