Seen in countless bit parts on television and film, Bibi Osterwald often played the frank, older woman dispensing advice and affection to youth. But her career on Broadway began as early as the mid-1940s, with her stage work encompassing both plays and musicals, including The Golden Apple, for which she earned an Outer Critics Circle Award.
Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1921, Osterwald made her debut on Broadway in the wartime revue Sing Out, Sweet Land (1944), called “A Salute to American Folk and Popular Music,” with a book by Walter Kerr and music arrangements by Elie Siegmeister. Also in the cast were Alfred Drake and Burl Ives. In 1946 she had several roles in another revue, Three to Make Ready, sharing the stage with Ray Bolger and Arthur Godfrey.
In the short-lived 1948 musical Sally (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Clifford Grey), Osterwald played Lily Bedlington. In 1949 she understudied for Carol Channing in the original production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and in 1954 she played Lovey Mars in the Homeric musical The Golden Apple, which starred Kaye Ballard as Helen. For her performance in a supporting role, Osterwald was honored with an Outer Critics Circle Award. RCA Victor issued an original cast recording of the musical.
Osterwald and Carol Channing worked together again – this time with Osterwald in a leading role, not understudying Channing – in The Vamp (1955), with a book by John La Touche and Sam Locke and music by James Mundy.
Though best known for her stage work in comedies, Osterwald played Madame Elizabeth in the play Look Homeward, Angel (1957). Based on Thomas Wolfe’s novel of the same name, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and had a healthy run of 564 performances. She returned to musical comedy in 1962, playing Miss Lumpe in the short-lived A Family Affair.
Her final appearance on Broadway was in 1967 as Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!, once again as a standby for Carol Channing, and briefly replacing Betty Grable just before Pearl Bailey assumed the title role. During the 1980’s she played Maggie Jones in the national touring company of 42nd Street.
Her many bit parts in movies include “Boothy” in The World of Henry Orient, the 1964 Peter Sellers film in which she expostulates to a teenage girl: “You mean you’ve never heard of John Barrymore? … Excuse me, it’s later than I think.” Other film credits include A Fine Madness, The Great Bank Hoax, and As Good As It Gets. Her numerous television credits, beginning in the 1940s, include “The Imogene Coca Show,” “Naked City,” “As the World Turns,” “The Love Boat,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Trapper John, M.D.,” “Remington Steele,” “Three’s Company,” “Mad About You,” “The Wayans Bros.,” and “Newhart.”
Osterwald died in Burbank, California, in January 2002.