The best of Arrested Development’s Jessica Walter, BK-born hot tea

Young Jessica Walter could totally get it. It = Afternoon delight.

Before you go into a two-day long Arrested Development binge-watching cocoon super late tomorrow night, let’s take a moment to appreciate one of the show’s finest actors, a total pro in the business and one of the sexiest creatures we have ever laid eyes on: Lucille Bluth (her?). Jessica Walter, the actress who plays the wicked matron Lucille, is actually a Brooklyn native, born here on Jan. 31, 1941.

So we all know her as the witholding, curly fry hating, former Motherboy champ from Arrested, which makes its glorious return to Netflix at 3 a.m. Sunday east coast time. But Walter has given us so many more roles, and we love her for her crackling wit, her stellar timing and that kind of aged actorial wisdom you only get from slugging it out in the trenches of the industry for decades, making her one of the best on-screen mothers of all time. If you still ask whether she is truly a modern treasure after reading this, we don’t understand the question, and we won’t respond to it.


Walter was born in 1941 in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, then heading off to graduate from Manhattan’s High School of the Performing ARts. She trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse in the city before she started showing up on soap operas in the early sixties, and things took off from there.


That old thing at the head of the Bluth family you know and love will first blow you, then she’ll poke you. It’s hard to imagine anyone else filling this role with the right bit of malice and the occasional hint of actual motherliness. We’d be her third least favorite child any time. Oooh isn’t it fun to talk like this??!


Oh man! Remember Dinosaurs? It was like they saw The Simpsons lives and put them on TV! Unbeknownst to your 90s-living-room sitting self, the voice of the future Lucille was the same one behind the mother on the show, Fran Sinclair. The special effects don’t quite hold up today, but whatever, this show was awesome when it came out. The Henson Company + Lucille Bluth + hormonally imbalanced baby = good times. Side note: the baby on this show was voiced by Kevin Clash, aka the voice of Elmo, aka that guy who just quit being the voice of Elmo for being kinda creepy at sex. She probably doesn’t have the milk of mother’s kindness for him any more.


Sure, Archer one of the slickest, most well-executed, hilarious shows in history. But it was also an incredible beacon of light on the television landscape when it debuted because, at the time, it was as close as we thought we were ever going to get to an Arrested reunion/new episodes. Walter’s Mallory in this show is essentially a copy of Lucille (if she ran a spy agency instead of a development company), in her attitudes, appearance, hell even her apartment looks similar. Her crazy secretary Carol/Cheryl is played by Judy Greer, who played crazy secretary Kitty on Arrested. And she’s courted by Len Trexler, a character played by George Bluth himself, Jeffrey Tambor. If you can’t see how the recursive humor of Arrested pollinated Archer, I say to you: that is how we get ants.


Remember The Fugitive TV show? No you don’t, because it happened a billion years ago in internet time before any of us were even drunken urges in our parents’ loins. But here is Jessica Walter killing it on a March 22, 1966 episode. What’s that thing about the way people talked on TV in the 60s? Whatever it is, she’s good at it.


“I heard you been consortin’ with a man:” that’s the lead in to a scene involving Walter facing “trial by wrasslin'” for letting a man into her room after dark (Buster?) on this old west episode of The Name of the Game, from 1971. Action starts at about 1:20. Also, Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka is in this too!

Archer Live, with Jessica Walter at right. Via David Andrako
Archer Live, with Jessica Walter at second from right. Via David Andrako


Possibly one of the greatest moments of a septuagenarian appealing to and totally winning over a young Brooklyn crowd, Walter took the stage before this Archer panel as part of the planned talent show portion of the night. Aisha Tyler did impressions, Jon Benjamin played banjo, but all Walter had to do to get laughs was read Craigslist ads in her shriveling, condescending tone, and hilarity ensued. Just imagine Lucille or Mallory saying the phrase “BJ for bus pass” and the subsequent ad. Total pro. Some more highlights of that tour here.

Also, she was on The Love Boat, Coach, in PCU, Ghost in the Machine, and played a character on The Magic Schoolbus that was unintentionally named after Eliot Spitzer’s mistress. C’mon!

So, who’s excited?

Arrested Development returns to Netflix at Saturday at midnight pacific time, 3 a.m. Sunday east coast time. 

Leave a Reply