Barbara Pepper



  • Birth Name: Marion Pepper
  • Height: 5' 3½" (1.61 m)


Barbara Pepper’s signature roles were as worldly “dames” during the Hollywood’s 1930s and 1940s Golden Era, fitting snugly alongside other flashy broads of that period such as Iris Adrian, Joan Blondell and Veda Ann Borg. Barbara patented her own unique, hard-boiled style, however, and should have gone further than she did. Most people who remember this fine character actress today as Doris Ziffel, the shrill, slovenly barnyard neighbor of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor on TV’s highly popular bucolic Green Acres (1965) series, will find it almost impossible to visualize the hefty, porcine-like actress from that sitcom as a blue-eyed, platinum-blonde knockout and former Ziegfeld/Goldwyn Girl way back when. Barbara was born Marion Pepper in New York City in 1915. By age 16, her mind was already set for a show biz career. Within a short time, and against her parents’ wishes, she nabbed a show girl spot in Florenz Ziegfeld Jr.’s Follies and changed her first name to Barbara. Here is where she met fellow chorine Lucille Ball and the two became lifetime, dedicated friends. After appearing as a member of the “George White’s Scandals” on Broadway, Barbara soon integrated radio and film work as well, paying her dues primarily in bit parts as saloon girls, clerks, chippies, and the like. Her film debut was as a slave girl extra (along with Lucy) in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals (1933). A couple of movies gave her the chance for brassy stardom, including Our Daily Bread (1934) as a floozie named Sally, and a love interest role opposite comedian Bert Wheeler (of Wheeler and Woolsey) in Mummy’s Boys (1936), but the roles were basically one-dimensional and she remained in the secondary ranks for the rest of her career. Her father, Dave Pepper, a non-professional, put together a brief, minor character career when he visited his daughter on the film set of Wanted! Jane Turner (1936) and was cast by director Edward Killy in the unbilled role of a detective. Father and daughter both also appeared in another movie the following year: The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1937). Trained by acting guru Maria Ouspenskaya at one stage, she married actor Craig Reynolds (ne Harold Hugh Enfield) in 1943 and the marriage proved a loving one despite later financial hardships when both could only find sporadic work. On stage in 1944, they appeared together in a modern version of “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” at the Geary Theater in San Francisco. They went on to have two sons, Dennis Michael and John Hugh Enfield. In 1949, however, her husband died tragically in a motorcycle accident. Barbara was absolutely devastated. Overwhelmed with her loss and the prospect of raising two sons alone, severe depression and a debilitating alcohol problem set in. Forced to find work as a laundress and waitress in between sparse acting parts, her weight quickly ballooned while her features grew coarse and bloated. During this period she could only muster up tiny roles on film and TV as various comic snoops and harridans. Friends like Lucy stepped in to help. Over the years, Barbara would be glimpsed several times on I Love Lucy (1951), including the classic episode “Friends of the Friendless” and as a frightened hospital nurse who is taken aback by Ricky Ricardo’s severe voodoo make-up when Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky. Barbara also brightened up other TV comedies with small parts on Jack Benny’s program as well as George Burns and Gracie Allen’s popular show. She could also be found occasionally on the Perry Mason (1957) series playing minor but colorful characters. In the 1960s, Barbara was glimpsed as a minor, plus-sized foil for Jerry Lewis in several of his slapstick film vehicles (Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958), Un chef de rayon explosif (1963), The Patsy (1964) and Hook, Line and Sinker (1969), the last mentioned released posthumously). One bright respite from all her financial miseries during this time came with a steady paycheck and her semi-regular series role as “mother” to a TV-watching pig on the popular Green Acres (1965) series. Barbara worked very well alongside crusty veteran character actor Hank Patterson as her close-to-deaf, dirt-farmer husband Fred Ziffel, although “son” Arnold the Pig received more fan mail than the two adults put together! While Barbara was quite fun in her cranky bucolic role, the fun wouldn’t last very long. Her health began to deteriorate rapidly during the run of this sitcom and she was eventually forced to relinquish the part during the 1968-1969 season, with actress Fran Ryan taking over the part. Plagued by a heart condition, Barbara died of a coronary in July, 1969, at the age of 54, looking at least a decade older, if not more.