Bridget Hanley, ‘Harper Valley PTA’ Star, Dies at 80

by Joe Rutland
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Actress Bridget Hanley, who played the nemesis of Harper Valley PTA star Barbara Eden on the NBC series, has died. She was 80.

Hanley, who had a breakout role on the ABC sitcom, Here Come the Brides, died last Wednesday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

She played Wanda Reilly Taylor, who was the comic foil for Eden’s Stella Johnson, on the 1981-82 NBC sitcom.

Her role on Here Come the Brides followed the story that was based on the Mercer Girls, who were brought to the frontier town of Seattle in the 1860s to work as teachers. This also would act as an inspiration for the classic 1954 musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

‘Harper Valley PTA’ Star Begins Career On Stage Before Moving To TV

Harper Valley PTA was based on a 1968 hit song written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley.

Bridget Hanley was born in Minneapolis on Feb. 3, 1941. Her father, Lee Hanley, was an All-America quarterback at Northwestern. She and her family moved to Edmonds, a suburb of Seattle, Wash., when she was young.

She went to Edmonds High School, the San Francisco College for Women, and the University of Washington. It was while at Washington that she acted in plays before graduating in 1962 with a degree in drama.

Hanley also found herself as a college student appearing during station breaks on a Seattle TV station to promote shows.

Her stage work included Noël Coward’s Private Lives and in the touring production of Lawrence Roman’s Under the Yum Yum Tree.

Actress Found Work On Numerous TV Shows Throughout Long Career

So, she came to Hollywood and got roles in sitcoms HankGidget starring Sally Field, and The Farmer’s Daughter.

Screen Gems got Hanley to sign a contract. Well, she went to work on Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery, Love on a Rooftop, Barbara Eden’s I Dream of Jeannie, and Field’s The Flying Nun before landing the lead in Here Come the Brides.

“I was under contract at the time from Screen Gems,” Hanley said in a 2006 interview with The Seattle Times. “I knocked on everybody’s door until they agreed to test me. I said, ‘Listen, I’m from Seattle and I bite my nails, what more do you want?’ And Bobby [Sherman] was kind enough to come in and we did the test together, and it was instant chemistry.”

Hanley went on to have roles on TV shows The Odd CoupleNanny and the ProfessorLove, American StyleWelcome Back, KotterEmergency!Jake and the Fatman, and Simon & Simon.

Bridget Hanley was married to TV director E.W. Swackhamer from 1969 until his death in 1994.

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