February 6, 2006
Imogene Burkhart, an actress better known as Jean Byron, died Friday at an area hospital. She was 80.
The native of Paducah, Ky., was born on Dec. 10, 1925, to Anna Louise Bastin and Edward Burkhart. She moved in with her family to Louisville, Ky., where she attended and graduated from Louisville Girl's High School in 1943. Prior to her graduation, at age 16, she was briefly a singer and entertainer on an area radio show.
The war effort took her family to California, where she studied acting while appearing on stage and radio. When she signed her first contract with Columbia Pictures, she adopted Jean Byron as her stage name.
In the 1950s, she was briefly married to actor Michael Ansara.
Byron had more than 80 credits in film and television on her resume. She played alongside Johnny Weissmuller, John Caradine, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Raquel Welch, Angela Lansbury and others. She was spokeswoman for Revlon and Lux products on "The Rosemary Clooney Show" and was knows as "The Lux Girl."
The role of Dr. Imogene Burkhart on the "Dobie Gillis" series was written for her by close friend and playwright Max Shulman.
Fans may best remember her as Natalie Lane, mother of Patty Duke on the mid-1960s series, "The Patty Duke Show."
A friend of Tommy Dorsey, she occasionally sang with the big band while she was filming in New York. She played regional theaters with Shirley Jones and Virginia Mayo, played Mama Rose in "Gypsy" and sang in "Guys and Dolls."
In the late 1980s, Jean entered semi-retirement and moved to Mobile to be closer to her family. She made a final movie appearance in the 1999 "Patty Duke Show Reunion" movie.
She is survived by her cousins, David Hancock and John Hancock, both of Mobile.