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Elizabeth MacRae, ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Gomer Pyle’ actor, dies at 88

Elizabeth “Betsy” MacRae Halsey, best known for her recurring roles on “General Hospital” and “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” has died at age 88.

MacRae died Monday at Highland House Rehabilitation & Healthcare in her hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., local news outlet CityView reported and Deadline confirmed.

“She had a wonderful life,” the actor’s nephew Jim MacRae told CityView on Tuesday. “She was bright and articulate. She was still getting fan mail at Highland House.”

Throughout her decades-spanning career, MacRae charmed audiences and entertainment executives alike, appearing in a number of classic soap operas and fan-favorite sitcoms. She enjoyed a triumph later in her acting career with a lead role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film “The Conversation,” which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or.

MacRae was born in 1936 in Columbia, S.C., but spent her formative years in Fayetteville, according to CityView. As a child, she frequented the cinema, captivated by movie stars such as Rita Hayworth and Elizabeth Taylor.

Following her graduation from the Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, Md., a college-preparatory school for girls with an emphasis on the arts, MacRae decided to seriously pursue acting in 1956.

That year, she botched an audition for Otto Preminger’s historical drama “Saint Joan,” but despite MacRae’s misfire, the Austrian director encouraged her to continue honing her craft — including by pursuing formal training. MacRae took his advice and moved to New York City to study with German American actor Uta Hagen at the Herbert Berghof Studio.

“Daddy gave me $100 and told me to come home when it was gone,” MacRae recalled in a 1967 interview. Within a week of the move, she said, she had landed a modeling job at Bergdorf Goodman.

After two years of acting in various off-Broadway and summer-stock productions, MacRae made her television debut in the courtroom drama “The Verdict Is Yours” in 1958. Other jobs followed, she recalled in an interview, allowing her to mail $100 enclosed in a valentine to her father.

MacRae went on to appear in a number of classic television series, including “Judd, for the Defense,” “Gunsmoke,” “General Hospital” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” In 1966, she began one of her best-known roles on “The Andy Griffith Show” spinoff “Gomer Pyle, USMC” as the title character’s girlfriend, Lou-Ann Poovie.

According to a 1968 Times report, MacRae was originally cast to play a tone-deaf lounge singer for a single episode. But her Southern accent — which she’d ironically tried to shed early in her career — and effortless chemistry with series lead Jim Nabors promoted her to a recurring role. She appeared in 15 episodes, with her last in 1969, the year Nabors quit the series to pursue other projects.

“She was my alter ego, and she lives inside me still,” MacRae told CityView in 2021. “I loved playing Lou-Ann Poovie.”

After “Gomer Pyle” ended, MacRae worked predominantly on soap operas, including “Another World,” “Days of Our Lives,” “Guiding Light” and “Search for Tomorrow.” But just as her career seemed to slow down, she was cast opposite Gene Hackman in Coppola’s critically acclaimed neo-noir mystery “The Conversation.” The film is now recognized as one of Coppola’s — and Hackman’s — master works.

In 1989, MacRae left Hollywood and returned to New York City, where she embarked on what she called her “second career” as a drug and alcohol counselor. Nearly a decade later, she moved back to North Carolina with her husband, Charles Halsey.

She was inducted into the Fayetteville Performing Arts Hall of Fame in April 2023.

“Elizabeth had the ‘X factor’ that is an important part of being a performer,” Mayon Weeks, who inducted MacRae into the Hall of Fame, told CityView. “A warm and delightful person to be with, and an engaging performer in film and on stage. A treasured daughter of our Fayetteville community.”

MacRae is survived by five stepchildren — Terry Halsey, Peter Halsey, Hugh Halsey, Cate Halsey and Alex Halsey Topper — and many nieces and nephews.

A trove of items chronicling MacRae’s acting career, which she donated in 1999 and 2002, are housed in the Louis Round Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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