Peggy Cass’s gift was her gab. So much so that the actress, who died of heart failure on March 8 at age 74, may be remembered more for her wisecracking chatter on the popular game show To Tell the Truth than for her Tony-winning and Oscar-nominated role of Agnes Gooch in Auntie Mame. But the characteristically good-humored Cass didn’t mind. “I loved doing it,” she told the St. Petersburg Times in 1993.
Armed with a brassy voice that, says fellow Truth panelist Orson Bean, “could boil the fat off a cabdriver’s neck,” Cass wielded a razor-sharp wit. When actress Kitty Carlisle Hart showed up one day for a Truth taping bedecked in chiffon evening wear, “Peggy came out with her little Peter Pan collar and short, flat skirt and sweater,” Hart recalls. “She looked at me and said, ‘Well, Madame Butterfly, it doesn’t look like we’re going to the same party.’ ”
The middle child of a Boston sports promoter and a homemaker, Cass made her stage debut playing a Russian sniper in a 1945 USO show in Australia. She then hit the boards on Broadway in shows such as Touch and Go. Though her role in the stage and film versions of Auntie Mame made her an award-winning actress, it wasn’t until her first appearance swapping witty repartee with Jack Paar on The Tonight Show in 1958, Cass once said, that “all of a sudden, I was famous.”
Cass’s talents kept her working on quiz shows, in stage productions and on TV, including the 1995 miniseries Danielle Steel’s Zoya. But recently she spent much of her time traveling with her husband of 20 years, retired teacher Eugene Feeney, and maintaining ties to those who loved talking to her. “She was always laughing,” says Bean. “She was just a joy to be around.”