A skillful redheaded comedic actress, Amy Yasbeck was featured as a child on the packaging of the Betty Crocker Easy-Bake Oven. Quickly booking a slew of TV and film credits, Yasbeck took over Daryl Hannah's mermaid role for "Splash, Too" (ABC, 1988) but made a bigger impression as Jason Alexander's sharp-tongued wife in "Pretty Woman" (1990). Her top-notch comic skills were on deliciously bitchy display when she played the shrewish Flo, wife of John Ritter, in the cartoonish comedy "Problem Child" (1990). The two famously hit it off on the set, marrying in 1999. A happily married Yasbeck scored as the comic female lead in two Mel Brooks productions: Maid Marian in "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993) and Mina Murray in "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995) as well as in a fun supporting turn as a snoopy reporter in Jim Carrey's "The Mask" (1994). She earned great exposure as a panelist on "I've Got a Secret" (CBS, 1952-1967; 1976; syndicated, 1972-73; Oxygen, 2000-03; GSN, 2006) and as Casey, the spoiled younger sister to Helen (Crystal Bernard) when she joined the cast of "Wings" (NBC, 1990-97). When John Ritter died unexpectedly in 2003, she put her career on hold to keep her family together, his memory alive and his legacy enduring. A talented actress who achieved a lower-wattage stardom, Amy Yasbeck kept many critics and fans hoping she would one day achieve her full artistic potential.
Born Sept. 12, 1962 in Blue Ash, OH, Amy Marie Yasbeck was immortalized in pop culture as a child when she was featured on the packaging of the Betty Crocker Easy-Bake Oven. After losing both of her parents, Yasbeck moved to New York City to become an actress, where she quickly landed a string of TV roles, including recurring roles on "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) and "Days of Our Lives" (NBC, 1965- ). She made her film debut in "House II: The Second Story" (1987), recurred on "Magnum, P.I." (CBS, 1980-88) and slipped into Daryl Hannah's tail to play the mermaid Madison in the made-for-TV sequel "Splash, Too" (ABC, 1988). She notched a pair of film successes with a small role as Jason Alexander's acerbic wife in the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere smash "Pretty Woman" (1990) and a juicy, larger role as John Ritter's shrewish, pet-loving wife who adopts the ultimate "Problem Child" (1990).
Yasbeck's innate flair for comedy was on full display in her deliciously vulgar performance, which showcased her complete lack of on-air vanity and comedic fearlessness. She and Ritter hit it off on set and in real life, and their paths would repeatedly cross again, both personally and professionally. They played a married couple in an episode of "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992), and once again took the two lead roles in "Problem Child 2" (1991), which featured Yasbeck as the polar opposite of her role in the first film: a sweet, shy nurse whose daughter turns out to be even more out-of-control than the previous moppet, and who ends up finding onscreen true love with Ritter. With her profile raised accordingly, Yasbeck continued to book TV guest spots, including roles on popular shows of the era, including "Designing Women" (CBS, 1986-1993), "Quantum Leap" (NBC, 1989-1993) and "Matlock" (NBC, 1986-1992; ABC, 1992-95).
Her top-notch comic chops were once again on brilliant display when she played a wonderfully whacked-out Maid Marian in Mel Brooks's parody "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993). Yasbeck went on to notch a fun supporting role in the Jim Carrey mega-smash, "The Mask" (1994), playing Peggy Brandt, a duplicitous reporter. She made a memorable cameo in Jodie Foster's Holly Hunter vehicle "Home for the Holidays" (1995) and reunited with Brooks to once again essay a loopy twist on a classic female role, this time as Mina Murray in his "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995). Yasbeck landed a long-running sitcom job when she was tapped to become the second female lead on "Wings" (NBC, 1990-97), playing Casey Chappel-Davenport, the spoiled, high-strung sister of aspiring cellist Helen (Crystal Bernard) who eventually won the heart of Brian, the wilder, younger Hackett brother (Steven Weber). In another real-life echo, John Ritter guested on the series as her ex-husband.
She and Ritter made their union official when they married in 1999, and she settled into a comfortable lower-tier stardom, notching a cameo in "The Odd Couple II" (1998), a lead series regular role on the Carol Leifer sitcom "Alright Already" (The WB, 1997-98) and a steady gig as a panelist on the game show reboots "I've Got a Secret" (CBS, 1952-1967; 1976; syndicated, 1972-73; Oxygen, 2000-03; GSN, 2006) and "Hollywood Squares" (NBC, 1966-1980, 1983-84; syndicated, 1971-1981, 1986-89, 1998-2004). Her world was upended, however, with the shocking death of John Ritter on Sept. 11, 2003 from an aortic dissection - a death that occurred on their daughter, Stella's birthday. A tragic widow who stood strong in the face of such incredible loss, she gave her blessing for his sitcom, "8 Simple Rules" (ABC, 2002-05) to continue, and to let Ritter's death be written into the show. Yasbeck filed a $67 million wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and doctors who treated him, with several of the defendants settling out of court for multimillion-dollar amounts, as Yasbeck believed Ritter was misdiagnosed. After taking time off to focus on her family and to grieve, Yasbeck returned to work with a new sitcom, "Life on a Stick" (Fox, 2005). She guested on "That's So Raven" (Disney Channel, 2003-07) as the mom of Raven-Symoné's sidekick Anneliese van der Pol. Serving as the keeper of John Ritter's flame and maintaining her family, Yasbeck scaled back on her professional momentum, but continued to work, booking guest spots on "Worst Week" (CBS, 2008-09) and "Hot in Cleveland" (TV Land, 2010- ).
By Jonathan Riggs