Ilene Graff is best known for her role on the classic ‘80s sitcom Mr. Belvedere. She played the family’s mother, Marsha Owens, as they welcomed an English butler (the titular Mr. Belvedere) into their suburban Pittsburgh home.
While Mr. Belvedere made her a household name in the 1980s, Ilene has largely been out of the national spotlight since. So, whatever happened to Ilene Graff from Mr. Belvedere?
Ilene Susan Graff was born in Queens, New York on February 28, 1949. Growing up in an artistic family (her father was in The Pied Pipers musical group) in the Big Apple, the young Ilene had many opportunities to hone her creative talents. As a teenager, she began performing as a singer and commercial actress while still in high school (Van Buren High in Queens Village).
After high school, Ilene attended Ithaca College, where she graduated with a degree in Drama in 1970. Shortly thereafter, she made her Broadway debut in the hit musical Promises Promises, a collaboration by Neil Simon and Burt Bacharach/Hal David. She also played Sandy in the original Broadway production of Grease, starring opposite actors such as Barry Bostwick and Richard Gere.
Later, Ilene would develop the role of Cleo for the Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart musical comedy I Love My Wife, a Broadway hit directed by Tony Award-winner Gene Saks.
Eventually, Ilene would make her transition into the world of television, most notably on Mr. Belvedere.
Mr. Belvedere ran from 1985-1990 (six seasons), with an average of 22 episodes for all seasons apart from the first one (seven episodes long). It was created by Jeff Stein and Frank Dungan (of Barney Miller fame), who based it on a character from author Gwen Davenport’s novel Belvedere (1947). The titular character is Mr. Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, a sophisticated Englishman who becomes a kind of mentor to the entire Owens household.
In addition to Mr. Belvedere (played by Christopher Hewitt), the other main characters are the father and mother, played respectively by Bob Uecker (of baseball broadcasting fame) and Ilene Graff. Ilene Graff played Marsha Owens for all six seasons, in the process becoming one of America’s favorite TV moms.
While Mr. Belvedere generally had good ratings throughout its tenure, it went on hiatus in 1989 and was canceled for good in 1990 after ratings plummeted. The show has aired as reruns sporadically since, and the first four seasons are available on DVD.
During and After Mr. Belvedere
During the run of Mr. Belvedere, Ilene acted in a few TV series and TV movies, including American Playhouse (1987).
After her rise to fame on Mr. Belvedere, Ileen continued to act, although less and less over the years. Notably, she co-starred with Glenn Close and Harry Connick, Jr. on the ABC/Walt Disney film South Pacific (2001), and with Rodney Dangerfield in Ladybugs (1992).
More recently, she popped up on the TV series Castle as a guest star in 2009, and she was featured as a recurring character in the TV series Hart of Dixie (2011-2015). On the latter show, from CW, Ilene played an over-protective and conniving Southern mom.
What Is Ilene Graff Doing Now?
While Ilene continues to act, as covered above, she is equally passionate about singing. To this day, Ilene enjoys an active cabaret concert career. She has performed in iconic venues like Feinstein’s/54 Below and Birdland in her native New York, as well as The Catalina Club in Los Angeles. She has also headlined for Crystal Cruises.
Ilene has sung for The Actors Fund, an experience that led her to become more involved with the Fund, eventually serving as an officer for the Western Council. She has also sung for the National Anthem for various Southern California sports teams, including the Angels, Dodgers, Kings, and Clippers.
With her husband, Ben Lanzarone, Ilene released a Grammy-nominated album, Baby’s Broadway Lullabies, a collection of theater songs arranged specifically for sleepy time.
Ilene and Ben also teach a popular vocal performance workshop in Los Angeles, helping students learn from their many years of experience and passion for music.
Ilene is also serious about giving back, and she has served as the spokesperson for the AMC Cancer Research Center.
Ilene met her husband, Ben Lanzarone, while performing Grease on Broadway. On that production, Ben served as conductor and pianist. Together, they have worked extensively in music, with Ben serving as Ilene’s arranger, co-producer, and accompanist.
Ilene and Ben have one daughter, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, who, like her mother, is an accomplished musical theater performer, as well as a podcaster and yoga instructor.