Joan Hotchkis Dies: The Odd Couple & Legacy Star Was 95

Joan Hotchkis, a veteran actor, writer, screenwriter and playwright, known for The Odd Couple and Legacy, died on September 27 in Los Angeles. She was 95. Her daughter Paula Chambers said Hotchkis death was due to congestive heart failure.

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Hotchkis was the last surviving child of Preston Hotchkis and Katharine Bixby, civic leaders in Los Angeles with statewide and national influence throughout the last century, who led everything from the Metropolitan Water District to the California Historical Society. 

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After earning a B.A. in Psychology from Smith College and an M.A. in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street Teacher’s College, Hotchkis taught nursery school in New York before becoming an actor in 1954 at the age of 27.

She landed the leading role of Lizzie in The Rainmaker at the Players Ring theater in Hollywood. When she returned to New York she became a member of The Actors Studio and was cast in TV commercials and guest spots. This is when she met director Bob Foster, whom she married in 1958 and with who she had daughter Paula.

Hotchkis would go on to star in the soap opera The Secret Storm and in the play Streetcar Named Desire before making her Broadway debut in 1960 on Advise and Consent.

She would divorce in 1967 and move back to Los Angeles where she had guest spots on shows like Bewitched and General Hospital, among others.

She was the female lead opposite William Windom on My World and Welcome To It (1969-70), and played Dr. Nancy Cunningham, the sometime-girlfriend of Jack Klugman’s Oscar Madison, on The Odd Couple” (1971).

Throughout the 1970s, she guest starred on many shows including Lou Grant, Charlie’s Angels, Mannix, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, St. Elsewhere, Marcus Welby, Barnaby Jones and The Life and Times of Eddie Roberts in 1980.

On the big screen, she had roles in The Late Liz, and Old Boyfriends, and she co-starred opposite William Holden in the film Breezy (1973), directed by Clint Eastwood, and co-starred with Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor as Anna “Mama” Hartley in the cult classic, Ode to Billie Joe (1976). 

Hotchkis would go on to write the acting handbook “Not Acting Please” and became a playwright with Legacy in 1974, which she would later adapt as a film.

Shortly after finishing Legacy, Hotchkis was diagnosed with meningioma (a non-cancerous brain tumor) and had it successfully surgically removed, allowing her decades more productivity.

Surviving brain surgery changed Hotchkis’ priorities: she gave up on TV and film and returned to the stage.

Hotchkis was always very interested in social justice, supporting progressive nonprofits and mentoring bright young women from underprivileged backgrounds. She provided critical support to activists, including future head of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Torie Osborne, and defender of Ethiopian women’s rights, Bogaletch “Boge” Gebre.

As an actor, writer, producer, performance artist, philanthropist, mentor, and friend, Joan Hotchkis inspired countless people with her passion, courage, generosity and delightful blend of elegance and playfulness. She is survived by daughter Paula and many loved ones who will miss her greatly. 

The memorial will be private, but donations can be made in Hotchkis’ memory to Highways Performance Space, a great organization that supported her fabulous transformation from mainstream actor to performance art crusader for the rights of women, artists and elders. www.highwaysperformance.org

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