Marge Simpson’s Julie Kavner Is a National Treasure

Marge Simpson may be America's mom, but Julie Kavner has had a brilliant career that goes far beyond her blue-haired counterpart!

The Simpsons weren’t on this week because of the Super Bowl. Homer, as we saw in last week’s couch gag, is watching at home, unaware that he will miss the final score because of a misplaced six-pack. Marge is probably watching at Moe’s, who’s probably making book on the game. Marge wouldn’t notice. She’s spent 25 years looking the other way.

Marge Simpson is TV’s great enabler, as Homer reminded her when she temporarily lost her identity.  Sure Marge may cluck and nag in a low constant growl of disapproval, but without her tacit collusion, Homer would never have drank himself into oblivion in a hot-sauce desert, grooved to the bong-rattling bass of Grand Funk Railroad’s Mel Schacher, eaten potato chips in space or changed time to save himself from mid-afternoon donut showers. Rodney Dangerfield himself, as Mr. Burns’ son Larry, called her a good sport.

When Marge married Homer she promised to love and honor, aid and abet. Even when she joined Springfield’s finest and became “the man” which made Homer “the woman” and very uncomfortable, Marge grumbled and let the institutionalized corruption of the town cops go as unchecked as manufacturing standards on knockoff designer jeans. Marge encouraged Homer to become the Beer Baron of Springfield and instigated graphic public snuggling.

Marge Simpson is America’s favorite mom and the face of American motherhood abroad. Why is Maggie still always sucking on that pacifier? Marge knows what her teeth will look like in a few years and that the nuclear plant doesn’t have a dental plan. Marge advised a smiling Lisa to be a moaning Lisa, opening the floodgates to years of conservative criticism. Marge probably bought the spray paint that El Barto tagged all of Springfield with.

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But Marge has saved Springfield. Without her, the monorail would have overtaken the stairway to nowhere as the town’s biggest tourist trap. Marge pointed out the dangerously nonchalant violence that Itchy and Scratchy cartoons spawned years before Krusty saw an episode while sober. Marge’s precognitive indulgence and harangues form a perfectly lopsided moral compass for a happily ethically rudderless and subversive TV show.

Marjorie “Marge” Bouvier Simpson is played by Julie Kavner, who also voices Marge’s sisters, Patty and Selma Bouvier, and Marge’s mother, Jacqueline Bouvier. Julie Kavner says she can slip into the Bouvier tongue so easily because she has a “bump” on her vocal cords. That doesn’t explain how easily she slips into the rest of her comic characterizations. Kavner made chicken as good as Woody Allen’s mother in New York Stories, she was Tony Banta’s sister on the classic TV comedy Taxi and Adam Sandler’s mother in Click. But before any of that, Julie Kavner was Rhoda’s little sister.

Brenda Morgenstern was on every episode of Rhoda. Julie Kavner was the poster child for seventies self-doubt. New York to the core. But Julie Deborah Kavner was born in Los Angeles on September 7, 1950, and grew up in sunny Southern California shortly thereafter. She went to Beverly Hills High School and San Diego State University. But Kavner’s parents were from the Bronx. Brenda and Rhoda’s parents were Ida, played by the Rosie the Bounty quicker picker upper at Rosie’s Diner Nancy Walker, and Martin, played by Harold Gould from The Sting, Love and Death and The Big Bus. Kavner is married to Rhoda producer and writer David Davis, but she’s a private person and that’s all I’ll say about her off-screen life.

Julie Kavner started playing Brenda Morgenstern on Rhoda in 1974. She was nominated for four Primetime Emmy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards. In 1978, Kavner won a Primetime Emmy Award for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Brenda was Rhoda’s new Mary. The best friend and confidante, the last person you want to tell the best and worst things of the day to. Brenda lived at 332 E. 84th Street. Julie Kavner and Valerie Harper were the face of New York sisters in the seventies. Brenda was Julie’s first professional acting role and she was already representing the single New York woman. That means Kavner has been consistently representing America for forty years.

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Julie Kavner is a national treasure.

Kavner wouldn’t be particularly comfortable with that much attention. She has it in her contract that she never has to do the voice of Marge Simpson publically unless she’s really in the mood. When The Simpsons cast was on Inside the Actor’s Studio, the actors did their voices on-camera. Not Julie. When she did Marge, the camera cut away to show pictures of her blue haired alter ego rather than spoil the illusion. Julie Kavner might have to do some kind of physical contortion to rub that vocal cord bump properly, maybe she has to stand on her head. Either that or Julie actually became Marge and it freaked James Lipton out. Whatever the reason, when Inside the Actors Studio came back from commercial break Julie was gone. Good for her.

Julie Kavner is an actor because there was “nothing else” she “wanted to do, ever.” At San Diego State University Kavner played Charlotte Corday in Marat/Sade and got a reputation for inspired improvisation. A natural comedian, she was equally adept at drama. Kavner didn’t get cast as Rhoda Morgenstern’s sister on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she auditioned for it. She did do dinner theater in Canada in a production of It Had to be You. In 1985, Kavner played in the comedy bomb Bad Medicine but took the Revenge of the Stepford Wives on TV. She didn’t get to star in a movie until 1992 in This Is My Life. Kavner played stand-up comedian Dottie Ingels. She loved the character because she was so selfish.

Burt Reynolds directed Kavner in his film Two for the Seesaw. Starting in 1987, Kavner was a regular on The Tracey Ullman Show playing virtually anything they came up with and having a ball doing it. She got four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for that. The Tracey Ullman Show was produced by James L. Brooks, who also produced Rhoda. And Mary Tyler Moore for that matter. Taxi too. What a guy. Thanks Mr. Brooks.

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After spending all that time locked in an editing room giving Woody Allen advice in Hannah and Her Sisters, she became part of his regular cast. She was comic gold he mined for Radio Days (1987), New York Stories (1989), Alice (1990), Shadows and Fog (1991), and Deconstructing Harry (1997) and the television movie Don’t Drink the Water (1994). Kavner played the prescient and intuitive nurse Eleanor Costello to Robin Williams’ doctor in the film Awakenings with Robert De Niro. Besides Marge, Julie lent her voice to The Lion King 1½ and Dr. Dolittle.

Kavner was nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award her starring role in The Girl Who Couldn’t Lose in 1975. She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 1992 for the Simpsons TV show and an Annie Award nomination for The Simpsons Movie.

And to think, Julie Kavner sometimes phones in her lines on The Simpsons. Literally. 

Den of Geek Rating: 5 Out of 5 Stars


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