R.I.P. Jessica Walter, the 'Arrested Development' star with six decades of TV credits

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: March 25, 2021, 3:24PM    Tags: Obituaries

Television fans of all ages will know Jessica Walter — and have a different reason for loving her. Millennials and Gen-Z will know her best as Mallory Archer, the animated character in 119 episodes of the comedic cartoon Archer. Or, of course, there is her brilliant work as the snobby, cocktail-sipping matriarch Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development.

Those 21st-century hits were merely the tip of the iceberg for a career that dates back to 1960. In the black-and-white era, she kickstarted her career with guest spots on hip series like Naked City, Route 66 and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1965, she landed her first major recurring role, playing the wife of William Shatner on the legal drama For the People. Her character was violin player, which must have clicked with Walter, whose father, David, was a member of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Following that short-run series — the failure of which freed Shatner for Star Trek — led to a string of small roles on several classic series. Walter popped up in Mission: Impossible, MannixMarcus Welby, M.D., Medical Center, The Magician, McCloud, McMillan & Wife… and that's just the M's. 

In 1975, the New York native won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for her work in Amy Prentiss, about a woman who becomes Chief of Police. The miniseries reunited her with William Shatner.

She also boarded The Love Boat eight times. She also has a link to the M*A*S*H universe, as she played Melanie Townsend McIntyre, the ex-wife of Trapper John, on Trapper John, M.D.

In 1983, Walter scored another regular role, on the short-lived perfume-industry soap Bare Essence. In the Eighties, she continued to hop for show to show, yet they singled seasons — forgotten titles like Wildfire and Aaron's Way.

Her biggest hit to date finally arrived in 1991 but kept her face hidden. She was the voice of the wife, Fran, on the Disney / Jim Henson sitcom Dinosaurs.

Arrested Development, the cutting comedy from executive producer-narrator Ron Howard, gave Walter the chance to show off her comedy chops to a new generation. It was the perfect cap to long and underrated career on the small screen. On March 24, Walter passed away at her home in New York, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 80 years old.