Even if you don't recognize the name Mary Kay Place, you've seen her in something. The Primetime Emmy award-winner for her role as Loretta Haggers in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was also cast in popular TV shows M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, My So-Called Life, The West Wing, King of the Hill, Big Love, The Mentalist, Pushing Daisies and Grey's Anatomy. Her big screen filmography's just as prolific, with The Big Chill, Private Benjamin, Starting Over, Captain Ron, Being John Malkovich, Citizen Ruth, Diane, Shrek Ever After, City of Ember, Sweet Home Alabama and Girl, Interrupted topping an impressive list of Hollywood productions.
Back in the '70s, the Oklahoma native and University of Tulsa graduate moonlighted as a country singer. Instead of cutting a few novelty sides, Place recorded memorable albums, scored two Top 10 singles and collaborated with some of the genre's top stars.
The leap from Los Angeles to Nashville made perfect sense at the time because Mary Hartman's big-haired best friend Haggers had delusions of country star grandeur. Why not get more milage out of the character that'd soon win Place an Emmy (Outstanding Supporting Actress - Comedy Series, 1977)?
That said, her debut 1976 album Tonite! At The Capri Lounge: Loretta Haggers was more than a cash-in on Norman Lear's syndicated series. Debut single "Baby Boy," a Top 3 hit, and its infectiously fun follow-up "Vitamin L" co-starred a who's-who of session musicians (Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell appear as acoustic guitarists) and backup vocalists (Harris, Dolly Parton and Anne Murray).
One year later, Place's sophomore album Aimin' to Please arrived, and it featured just as much star power. Talents the caliber of backup singer Nicolette Larson joined Harris and her Hot Band in studio. Duet partner Willie Nelson elevated Place's second and final Top 10 hit to date, "Something to Brag About," while Leon Russell appears as guest pianist on a cover of "Save the Last Dance for Me."
During her stay in the country music spotlight, Place sang "Something to Brag About" with Nelson on a 1977 episode of Saturday Night Live, giving her musical talents an invaluable mainstream platform.
There's one big difference between Place's first and second album: the name of her country music-obsessed comedy character Haggers is nowhere to be found on Aimin' to Please's cover.
"When I made the recording contract in the first place, I said there would only be one Mary Kay-Loretta Haggers album," Place said (as reported in the Dec. 3, 1977 issue of Pomona, California's Progress Bulletin). "It would have been stupid of me to not take advantage of the character's popularity. It was a safe way for me to make a first album. It was much easier to use the character as a learning endeavor."
It turned out that Place needed no safety net-- Learning endeavor Tonite! At The Capri Lounge: Loretta Haggers earned her a Grammy nomination (Best Country Vocal Performance, Female).
A third album, Almost Grown, was recorded in 1979 and released in 2011. It, too, featured some of the top country talents of the time, such as Johnny Rodriguez. This time around, Place covered multiple rock and pop songs, from the Chuck Berry-penned title track to Elvis Costello's "This Year's Girl." As you might assume, the latter's more Carlene than anyone else in the Carter-Cash clan, and that's a good thing.
So beyond working pre-fame as a production assistant for Tim Conway, writing classic television episodes with future Designing Women creator Linda Bloodworth and helping bring the works of fellow creatives John Grisham and Francis Ford Coppola (The Rainmaker) to life as an actor, Place found herself at home in country music.
Place's top-performing track on Spotify doesn't come from her well-aged country music catalog. It's her "New York, New York" duet with Robert De Niro from the 1977 Liza Minelli film. Nothing against that version of a pop standard, but we'd rather hear her sing one with Willie.