Randee Heller (born Randee Antzis; June 10, 1947) is an American television and film actress known for playing Alice in the 1970s sitcom Soap – one of television's first lesbian characters – as well as for playing Lucille LaRusso, the mother of Ralph Macchio's starring character, in the films The Karate Kid and The Karate Kid Part III, and in the streaming series Cobra Kai; and Bert Cooper's and Don Draper's elderly secretary Ida Blankenship in a recurring role on the series Mad Men.
June 10, 1947
Heller was born in Brooklyn, New York City, and grew up in West Hempstead, New York, on Long Island, of Russian Jewish heritage. After initially attending Emerson College in Boston, she returned to Long Island to graduate in 1969 from Adelphi University, where she studied theater.
The summer after graduation, she was cast in an Off-Broadway production of Godspell. She went on to do the Broadway musical Grease, playing Rizzo. In 1978, Heller moved from New York to California to pursue screen work.
Her role as Alice, one of the television's first lesbian characters, on the TV series Soap received mixed reviews, with criticism primarily directed not for at acting but at the stereotyping of her character. The Boston Herald said that the characterization shows how "the networks have generally depicted lesbians either as suicidal losers or sexual predators." For example, it identifies Alice as "TV's first recurring lesbian character," noting that she "first tries to throw herself off a bridge, then falls for Jodie (Billy Crystal), a confused gay man, and finally runs off.". Ahead of filming, producers ordered Heller's newly permed hair straightened at the network's insistence. Of a later episode in which Alice introduces her girlfriend, Heller said, "I went to kiss her in rehearsals and they said, 'No no no … you can’t do that.' I said, 'But she’s my girlfriend!' 'No, no no no, we can’t do that, we just cannot do that.' So it was so careful, it was so delicate in those days that you couldn’t really do your thing. … They wanted me to be a heterosexual homosexual." Heller would appear as a lesbian character again in a 2010 episode of Grey's Anatomy "Almost Grown," playing the partner of a female patient with a brain tumor.
After leaving Soap, the actress gained the role of Lucille LaRusso, mother of Ralph Macchio's starring character, in the Karate Kid movie series, appearing in the first and third installments, receiving good notices from critics. Reviewer Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune noted her absence from the second film: "Heller's honest portrayal of a single parent trying to raise an adolescent was one of the genuine pleasures of the original film." Star Macchio agreed, stating in one interview with Siskel,
I argued for her [inclusion]. Those scenes with her were some of my favorites in the original – they had some real emotion – and I honestly don't know why she isn't there. I haven't seen the sequel, but (when the film focuses) just on Miyagi, well, he's a great character, but after a while he can become sort of a walking fortune cookie with all of his sayings.
Heller was also the voice that says "Hey Rock, you're a bum" in the first Rocky movie.
Television guest appearancesEdit
Heller had a starring role as Carol in the 1979 TV movie Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze. She has made guest appearances in television series including Murder, She Wrote, Less Than Perfect, ALF, Nip/Tuck, Judging Amy, Felicity, the children's series Drake & Josh, Night Court, Fame, and The White Shadow. She was a regular on the one-season program Husbands, Wives & Lovers (1978). Heller played leading roles in three short-lived sitcoms: Second Chance (1987), "Better Days (TV series)," and Mama Malone (1984). Her TV-movie appearances include Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze and And Your Name is Jonah (both 1979). In 2018, Heller reprised the role of Lucille LaRusso in episodes of seasons one and two of Cobra Kai, a YouTube Red series.
Heller had a recurring role in the fourth season (2010) of AMC's Mad Men as Bert Cooper's and Don Draper's elderly secretary Ida Blankenship. For this role she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. Also, in the 2010s, she played the recurring role of Ryan's neighbor Margot on the American version of Wilfred.
...she proved in her first five minutes that she knows how to develop a character, command a stage and deliver a song. Heller made a role that seems peripheral in some productions into a central part of the story. When her engagement to her Jewish beau, Herr Schultz, is called off, it symbolizes many of the small human tragedies brought about by Nazi hate.
Heller also played the role of Barbra Streisand's mother in the stage performances of Streisand's Timeless concerts in 2000. She performed the role after having been diagnosed with breast cancer the year before and undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
|1979||Fast Break||Jan||Jack Smight||Film debut|
|1984||The Karate Kid||Lucille LaRusso||John G. Avildsen|
|1986||The Ladies Club||Harriet||Janet Greek|
|1989||The Karate Kid Part III||Lucille LaRusso||John G. Avildsen|
|1993||The Baby Doll Murders||Mrs. Maglia||Paul Leder|
|1994||Frame-Up II: The Cover-Up||Ruth Epstein||Paul Leder||Alternatively titled "Deadly Conspiracy"|
|1997||Matter of Trust||Stoddard||Joey Travolta|
|1998||Bulworth||Mrs. Tannenbaum||Warren Beatty|
|2005||Monster-in-Law||Beverly Hills Dog Owner||Robert Luketic|
|2005||Better Days||Harriet Winners||Raul Ingils|
|2005||Crazylove||Principal Gail||Ellie Kanner|
|2017||A Crooked Somebody||Phylis||Trevor White|
|1978||Husbands, Wives & Lovers||Rita DeLatorre||Season 1 (10 episodes)|
|1979||Supertrain||Tammie Tyler||Season 1, episode 5: "Superstar"|
|1979||240-Robert||Joan Laurent||Season 1, episode 3: "Bathysphere"|
|1979||Soap||Alice||Recurring role • Seasons 2 & 3 (9 episodes)|
|1980||The White Shadow||Susan||Season 2, episode 17: "The Stripper"|
|1980||Number 96||Marion Quintzel||Unknown episode(s) • adaptation of the Australian soap opera|
|1981||Quincy, M.E.||Iris||Season 7, episode 5: "D.U.I"|
|1982||Today's FBI||Unknown / unnamed role||Season 1, episode 9: "A Woman's Story"|
|1983||Amanda's||Barbara Mehrin||Season 1, episode 7: "Last of the Red Hot Brothers"|
|1984||Oh Madeline||Unknown / unnamed role||Season 1, episode 16: "Ladies' Night Out"|
|1984||Mama Malone||Connie Malone Karamkopoulos||Main role • Season 1 (13 episodes)|
|1984||Night Court||Anita Fries||Season 2, episode 1: "The Nun"|
|1985||Hunter||Peg Sullivan||Season 2, episode 5: "Killer in a Halloween Mask"|
|1985||Night Court||Renee||Season 3, episode 11: "Walk Away, Renee"|
|1985–86||Fame||Peggy Persky||Recurring role • season 5 (3 episodes)|
|1986||Better Days||Harriet Winners||Main role • season 1 (11 episodes)|
|1987||The Bronx Zoo||Jeannie||Recurring role • season 1 (2 episodes)|
|1987–88||Second Chance||Helen Russell||Main role • season 1 (21 episodes)|
|1989||ALF||Elaine Ochmonek||Season 3, episode 23: "Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?"|
|1989–90||Who's the Boss||Carol||Recurring role • season 6 (2 episodes)|
|1990||Major Dad||Lt. Colonel Maggie Connell||Season 1, episode 15: "That Connell Woman"|
|1990||Midnight Caller||Katie McGill||Recurring role • season 2 (2 episodes)|
|1990||His & Hers||Lynn||Season 1, episode 1: "Pilot"|
|1990||The Fanelli Boys||Viva Fontaine||Season 1, episode 6: "Take My Ex-Wife, Please"|
|1990||WIOU||Janet Harper||Season 1, episode 3: "The Inquisition"|
|1991||Pacific Station||Charlotte||Season 1, episode 4: "Love and Death"|
|1991||Murder, She Wrote||Lt. Cynthia Devereaux||Season 8, episode 5: "Lines of Excellence"|
|1993||Camp Wilder||Mom||Season 1, episode 15: "Bringing Up Brody"|
|1993||Melrose Place||Police Detective Altman||Season 2, episode 2: "A Long Night's Journey"|
|1994||The Mommies||Gary / Mary||Season 1, episode 20: "Valentine's Day"|
|1994||Love & War||Marjorie||Season 3, episode 5: "A New York Yankee in Queen Dana's Court"|
|1994||ER||Woman||Season 1, episode 11: "The Gift"|
|1996||High Incident||Unknown / unnamed role||Season 2, episode 5: "The Godfather"|
|1996||Family Matters||Judge Jennifer Mooney||Season 8, episode 12: "The Jury"|
|1997||Ink||Woman||Season 1, episode 14: "Life Without Mikey"|
|1997||Crisis Center||Grocer's Mother||Season 1, episode 1: "The Center"|
|1997||Coach||Kathi||Season 9, episode 20: "The Neighbor Hood"|
|1997||Fired Up||Tina||Recurring role • season 2 (3 episodes)|
|1999||Clueless||Judge Geyser||Season 3, episode 18: "Big Sissies"|
|1999||Chicago Hope||Pam Miller||Season 6, episode 2: "Y'Gotta Have Heart"|
|2000||Family Law||Jessica Bronson||Season 1, episode 18: "Necessity"|
|2001||Jack & Jill||Mrs. Weyman||Season 2, episode 6: "Pressure Points"|
|2001||Popular||Judy Julian||Recurring role • season 2 (2 episodes)|
|2001||Judging Amy||Ms. Pankow (uncredited)||Season 3, episode 4: "The Right Thing To Do"|
|2002||Felicity||Psychiatrist||Season 4, episode 21: "Felicity, Interrupted"|
|2002||Judging Amy||Ms. Madsen (uncredited)||Season 4, episode 10: "People of the Lie"|
|2003||Less Than Perfect||Mrs. Ross||Season 2, episode 3: "It Takes a Pillage"|
|2003||Judging Amy||Paige Lange's Attorney||Season 5, episode 8: "The Long Goodbye"|
|2004||Drake & Josh||Grammy||Season 1, episode 6: "Grammy"|
|2004||The Stones||Lila||Season 1, episode 3: "The Lawyer Trap"|
|2004||The Division||Paul's Attorney||Season 4, episode 20: "Be Careful What You Wish For"|
|2004||Clubhouse||Interviewer||Season 1, episode 4: "Trade Talks"|
|2005||Judging Amy||Evelyn Pankow||Season 6, episode 13: "Dream a Little Dream"|
|2005||Crossing Jordan||Julie Harvey||Season 4, episode 14: "Gray Murders"|
|2006||Nip/Tuck||Saleswoman||Season 4, episode 5: "Dawn Budge"|
|2009||Brothers & Sisters||Karin||Season 3, episode 24: "Mexico"|
|2009||Hawthorne||Shirley Riddle||Season 1, episode 9: "Mother's Day"|
|2010||Mad Men||Ida Blankenship||Recurring role • season 4 (5 episodes)|
|2010||Grey's Anatomy||Joanne Ratigan||Season 7, episode 5: "Almost Grown"|
|2011||Honey and Joy||Dottie||Television short|
|2011||In Plain Sight||Dora Alpert||Recurring role • season 4 (3 episodes)|
|2011||Desperate Housewives||Karen||Season 8, episode 5: "The Art of Making Art"|
|2011||Prime Suspect||Mrs. Minoff||Season 1, episode 7: "Wednesday's Child" • adaptation of the British TV series|
|2011||Generator Rex||Additional voices||Season 3, episode 5: "Phantom of the Soap Opera"|
|2012||The Mentalist||Marta Roman||Season 5, episode 8: "Red Sails in the Sunset"|
|2013||Emily Owens, M.D.||Maggie||Season 1, episode 13: "Emily and... the Leap"|
|2013||Modern Family||Rita||Season 5, episode 8: "ClosetCon '13|
|2013–14||Wilfred||Margot||Recurring role • seasons 3 & 4 (4 episodes) • adaptation of the Australian TV series|
|2014||Partners||Judge Miller||Season 1, episode 1: "They Come Together"|
|2016||Mary + Jane||Aunt Grace||Season 1, episode 3: "Sn**chelorette"|
|2018-19||Cobra Kai||Lucille LaRusso||Season 1, episode 8: "Molting". Season 2, episode 8: "Glory of Love".|
- Husbands and Wives ... as Rita Bell (1977)
- ...And Your Name is Jonah ... as Connie (1979)
- Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze ... as Carol (1979)
- Obsessed with a Married Woman ... as Rita (1985)
- The Last Fling ... as Mimi (1987)
- Changes ... as Carol Kellerman (1991)
- Coma ... as Doug's Mother (2009)
- Haunted with a View ... unknown / unnamed role (2011)
Selected theatre credits
- Grease ... as Betty Rizzo (replacement) (February 14, 1972 – April 13, 1980)
- Hurry Harry ... as Helena / writer / Native No. 4 / Not-So-Grand Lama / Gypsy (October 12, 1972 – October 13, 1972)
- "Randee Heller Biography". TV Guide. Archived from the original on June 20, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
- Eissner, Bonnie (November 24, 2014). "Randee (Antzis) Heller '69: That's Show Business". Garden City, New York: Adelphi University. Archived from the original on February 9, 2020.
- Handy, Bruce (September 24, 2010). "An Interview With Randee Heller, Mad Men's Miss Blankenship". Vanity Fair. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2020.
I was born in Brooklyn. But I was only two when we left and then we moved to Long Island.... I had grandparents that grew up in Russia.
- Hochberg, Mina. "Q&A with Randee Heller" Archived 2010-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, AMCtv.com, 19 September 2010.
- Jim Kershner. "Sandpoint schedule shaping up." The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), May 13, 2001, p. F3
- Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Television Characters (1971-1980)
- Clifford Pugh. "Much ado about Ellen/Houstonians plan parties to watch tonight's controversial episode", Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1997, Houston section, page 1.
- "Gay TV history", The Orlando Sentinel, April 30, 1997, page E1.
- Taylor Cole Miller. "Don't Drop the Soap: American Television's Long-Lost Lesbian", The Huffington Post, May 28, 2013.
- Mark A. Perigard. "Networks' record shows gay stereotyping", Boston Herald April 30, 1997, page 44.
- George Williams. "'The Karate Kid' doesn't have to fight to be a winner", Sacramento Bee, June 22, 1984, Scene section, page D.
- Gene Siskel. "In 'The Karate Kid Part II', Daniel and Miyagi are in the wrong fight", Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1986, p. 29
- Gene Siskel. "Ralph Macchio's baby face can't mask maturing talent", Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1986, Arts section, p. 10
- Jeff Murphy. "Walk down this 'Avenue' for a raucous night out", The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), January 21, 2006, p. D3
- Paul Hodgins. "'Allergist's Wife' finds sea legs - After a wobbly start, the comedy about Manhattan manners gathers steam and heads into a strong finale" (review), The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, California), May 30, 2005, p. A
- Jim Kershner. "Dark musical: CdA Summer Theatre's `Cabaret' an entertaining show despite setting", The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington), July 10, 2001, p. D7