Anne Ramsey: 39 Years to Overnight Success

Anne Ramsey: 39 Years to Overnight Success

MSN calls her one of the Female Villains We Admire. Digital Spy ranks her among the Worst TV Moms.

And Turner Classic Movie Channel describes her as “the queen of playing mean onscreen.”

Yet actress Anne Ramsey started out as a debutante from a blueblood family.

She counted Mayflower Pilgrim William Brewster as an ancestor. Her father was an insurance executive and her mother the treasurer of Girl Scouts of America.

She attended an exclusive girls’ school in Greenwich, Connecticut with the evocative name of Rosemary Hall (not to be confused with a Woody Allen film).

But Anne decided at age 4 that she wanted to act, after seeing The Petrified Forest with her father (sophisticated viewing for a little girl).

No amount of elite upbringing would hold her back. Her “overnight success” came more than five decades later, at age 59, with an Oscar nod for Throw Momma From The Train.

Anne studied Performing Arts at Bennington College and graduated in 1951. She met her future husband, Logan Ramsey, while doing regional theatre in Surry, Maine. The two married in 1954, and together, established Philadelphia’s prestigious Theatre of the Living Arts.

It’s never easy to work the dream and makes ends meet. At one point, during the early ’60s, Anne took a job coordinating NFL award dinners (where she hired a young Dustin Hoffman as her messenger boy). She also did a stint as a New York Times food writer.

Logan cast teenage Barbra Streisand as Anne’s maid in a summer stock production. What goes around comes around. Anne finally made the big screen in 1974 at age 45. That same year, she appeared in the Streisand film, For Pete’s Sake.

The Goonies starred Anne Ramsey as Mama Fratelli. Anne's a late bloomer who didn't hit the big screen until age 45!

But a whole generation fears and reveres Anne as Mama Fratelli, the evil matriarch in Steven Spielberg’s The Goonies (1985).

The film follows a band of boys from the “Goon Docks,” an Astoria, Oregon neighborhood, in a desperate race to save their homes from demolition.

The boys discover an old Spanish map that points them to the legendary treasure of One-Eyed Willie, a 17th-century pirate. It’s the ultimate adventure tale, and Mama Fratelli the ultimate nasty adversary.

Anne truly terrified her 10-year-old costar Jeff B. Cohen (“Chunk”) by growling, “Put that kid’s hand in the blender and hit puree.”

Sean Astin (“Mikey”) has a much more pleasant memory of Anne and Logan sitting outside one of the tiny dressing room cottages—”[they] were like gnome houses or Oompa Loompa cottages”—drinking Bloody Marys and watching the sun go down.

I just remember thinking, ‘That is so cool.’ For a second-generation actor to see how these older performers would honor the end of the day, I just loved it. That was a great moment.

Not long after The Goonies wrapped, Anne developed a chronic sore throat, but ignored it. Then she felt the lump: “. . .I was terrified. I wouldn’t go to a doctor. Finally, Logan got me to go.”

It was cancer. Anne continued working through radiation treatments, guest starring on Hill Street Blues and Knight Rider. “I felt so lucky I had the strength to continue.”

Anne Ramsey's turn in Throw Momma From The Train earned her an Oscar nod at age 59.

But the treatments failed. Her surgeon told her that he might have to remove part of her tongue and effectively end her career.

Anne underwent surgery on her 57th birthday. The surgeon reconstructed her tongue with tissue from her thigh. She couldn’t talk for two weeks.

Finally, the surgeon removed the tube from her throat and told her to “say something.” Anne replied, “What do you want me to say?” and burst into tears. She could talk.

Enter Danny DeVito, who’d screened one actress after the other to play the title role in Throw Momma From The Train his directorial debut.

He was getting so desperate, his friends started volunteering their mothers.

Finally, his casting people found Anne, and he “knew immediately that Momma had walked into my life.”

Treatments and surgery left Anne with stiffness, a speech impediment, and a drooling condition she dismissed as “manageable. I’m just happy to be alive.”

Anne used her condition to craft a character so memorable, the Academy nominated her for Best Supporting Actress.

Anne’s cancer recurred in April 1988 and she passed away in August at age 59. She appeared in four movies released after her death, including Scrooged with Bill Murray.

Young Anne Ramsey

Anne Ramsey attained cult status for her roles, especially The Goonies—a film that encourages us to believe in our wildest dreams.

We lost her far too soon, but she lived her dream right to the end.

Are you a closet Goonie? What’s your wildest dream? 

(Me, I’m still going to be a National Geographic explorer. Or even better, an independent geographic explorer.)

Sources

Mama Fratelli as a Cult Figure

Post image from GremlinDog.com; thank you to Michael Guerrieri for calling Anne to my attention.

23 Responses

  1. michael guerrieri23@gmail.com
    | Reply

    could write an article on agnes nixon The Daytime Drama writer and film a documentary.

    • @DebraEve
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      Michael, you are astonishing. How do you know about these women? I’d never heard of Agnes Nixon, but just looked her up on Wikipedia. What a talent! And so ahead of her time. Filming a documentary is beyond my abilities, but I will profile her here soon in hope that someone else will take up the challenge! It looks like she was featured in a 2012 documentary, but you’re right, she deserves one all to herself. (Any documentarians out there? Agnes was born in 1922 and is still alive. Seriously, look her up!)

  2. Patricia Yager Delagrange
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for this great tribute to Anne. I never saw The Goonies but I will now. I saw Throw Mama and it was indeed hysterical. What a lovely “Later Bloomer” story.
    Patti

    • @DebraEve
      |

      Thanks, Patricia. Definitely check out The Goonies. It’s one of those “feel good” movies that any generation can enjoy!

  3. Anne R. Allen
    | Reply

    What a fantastic story! I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never seen the Goonies, but I’ve seen Throw Momma from the Train several times. Anne Ramsey played the ultimate Rotten Mother. I my years in the theater, I sought out the mean roles, too. I always said I specialized in “witches, bitches and bad moms”. They’re so much more fun!

    • @DebraEve
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      Witch, bitches and bad moms…LOL, Anne! Many actors I know go for the villains and I can see why. Throw Momma is just an amazing testament to Anne’s talent. She even did a few of her own stunts.

  4. Adam Henig
    | Reply

    Great post, though, a bit sad at the end; just as her career was taking off, she succumbs to cancer….As a child who remembers watching The Goonies, Ann was a lot scarier to me than the one-eyed freak or felony sons.

    • @DebraEve
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      And there’s the sign of a superb actor, Adam — that you remember her as being scarier than anyone else :). It is a bit sad, but also amazing — she knew for certain she would be remembered for her performance long after she died.

  5. Marcia Richards
    | Reply

    Goonies is one of my favorite movies! Anne was perfect in that role. Thanks, Debra, for sharing her life story. So sad that she died young. We just never know when death will come so it’s important to pursue our passions with zest and immediacy. Anne Ramsey is a good example of that. She pursued hers early in life. I wish her biggest successes had come sooner but I’d guess she was the type to be as happy with the pursuit as with reaching that goal.

    • @DebraEve
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      There is a bittersweet quality to the fact that her greatest recognition came right before she died, Marcia, but she was doing what she loved regardless of when she “made it.” I love the fact she approached life’s challenges as just another way to pursue her passion!

  6. Florence Fois
    | Reply

    Debra, having two gen-X kids, I not only saw Goonies, it became a regular in our house like The Breakfast Club. I’ve seen that movie more than a dozen times and I never tire of it. I thank my kids for opening me up to this amazing fantasy and the the fun of dreaming along with the “gang.”

    Thanks so much for sharing Anne’s story. I knew she has passed on early, but never heard this story. That’s what’s so great about your site. Heck, I am not a “closet” Goonie … I came out years ago … and my fav would be to trip over a stash of rare gems … OH … I have done that already with posts like this 🙂

    • @DebraEve
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      I know a few moms in your position, Florence, who unfortunately OD’d on The Goonies, it played so much in their house. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

  7. michael guerrieri23@gmail.com
    | Reply

    she is the soap writer of all my children and one life to live and loving.

  8. Madeleine Kolb
    | Reply

    I’ve never seen The Goonies either, but now I’ve got to check it out. What a great talent and an indomitable spirit. Cancer is always frightening, but cancer of the tongue is horrible to imagine.
    As for my wildest dream: Giving a TED talk about some aspect of aging without getting a face-lift first like Jane Fonda did some years back.

    • @DebraEve
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      Madeleine, absolutely love your Goonie dream! I think I read somewhere that Jane regrets that lift now. Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    I have never seen Goonies, but I did see Throw Mama Off The Train. I had no idea that Anne Ramsey was a late bloomer. She had quite a passion for her craft, even through all that suffering. It just shows us how fleeting our life is and that we need to take every opportunity to be grateful and seize the day. 🙂

    • @DebraEve
      |

      As someone who has battled various illnesses as an adult, I can’t even imagine how Anne got the energy to go to work everyday under the circumstances. But perhaps that the key — for her, work wasn’t work, it was play and passion. Thanks for stopping by, Karen!

  10. Tammie
    | Reply

    My dream.. a very great multimedia artist.

    • @DebraEve
      |

      Just stopped by your site and it looks like you’re well on your way, Tammie! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. Lee
    | Reply

    I can’t believe all these people saying they haven’t seen the Goonies!! It’s the best movie ever!! I’m 34 and still love it!!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
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      Right, Lee? My hubby and I rewatch it every couple years. One of the most perfect children’s stories ever! Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Anne Flournoy
    | Reply

    Great piece. GREAT title. It’s such a service you’re doing for all of us keeping these stories in the forefront of an otherwise global obsession with instant success among the Millenials. YAY YOU!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Thanks so much, Louise! I’m been really savoring the richness of SLOW recently…I never liked rushing anything, but all my life, I’ve accepted other people’s measures of success and just about everything. It’s getting so much harder to savor these days, but I will stubbornly persist!

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