Inga Swenson, the gifted actor and singer best known for her role as Gretchen the cook on the beloved ’80s sitcom “Benson,” passed away peacefully on Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 90. According to TMZ, Swenson dἰed of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of remarkable performances and unforgettable contributions to both television and Broadway.
Swenson’s iconic portrayal of Gretchen Kraus on the ABC series “Benson” captivated audiences for seven years, from 1979 to 1986. The show followed the adventures of Benson DuBois (Robert Guillaume) as he assumed the role of head of household for a governor. As Gretchen, the German cook with whom Benson shared a playful workplace rivalry and friendship, Swenson’s talent shone brightly, earning her three Primetime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress. The success of “Benson” stemmed from the show’s origin as a spin-off of the popular series “Soap,” in which Swenson also showcased her acting prowess in multiple episodes as the character Ingrid Svenson.
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Beyond the small screen, Swenson’s artistic journey encompassed a thriving Broadway career in the 1960s. With her remarkable soprano voice, she commanded the stage in leading roles such as Lizzy Curry in “110 in the Shade” and Irene Adler in “Baker Street.” Both performances earned her Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Musical. The former production explored the life of a woman living on a ranch in the Southwest, while the latter was based on the captivating stories of Sherlock Holmes. Swenson’s theatrical repertoire also included notable appearances in “Camelot,” “Peer Gynt,” and “The First Gentleman.”
Her talents were not confined to television and Broadway; Swenson also graced the silver screen with her presence. Her film credits included notable works like “Advise and Consent” (1962), “The Miracle Worker” (1962), “Lipstick” (1976), and “The Betsy” (1978), further solidifying her position as a versatile and accomplished performer.
Born on December 29, 1932, in Omaha, Nebraska, Inga Swenson’s early passion for drama led her to study at Northwestern University. In 1953, she married sound engineer Lowell Harris, with whom she shared a life of love and parenthood. Together, they had two sons, and Swenson’s profound influence as a mother extended beyond the stage and screen.
As we bid farewell to this remarkable talent, Inga Swenson’s memory will forever live on through her extraordinary body of work and the joy she brought to audiences worldwide. She leaves behind a loving husband, Lowell Harris, and her son Mark Harris, a film editor. May her legacy continue to inspire generations to come as we fondly remember the indelible mark she left on the world of entertainment.