Helen Hanft, the comedic actress who became a favorite of such writer-directors as Woody Allen, Paul Mazursky and Tom Eyen, died of intestinal complications on May 30 in New York. She was 79.
Born in the Bronx on April 3, 1934, she attended the High School of Performing Arts and began her theatrical career as a pioneer of experimental theater at such venues as La Mama Etc. and Caffe Cino.
Known for her loudmouth persona, she often played eccentric, flamboyant, raunchy characters in Tom Eyen comedies including "Sarah B. Divine," "Areatha in the Ice Palace" and "My Next Husband Will Be a Beauty" as well as "Why Hanna's Skirt Won't Stay Down," "Women Behind Bars," "The Neon Woman" (in which she co-starred with Divine), and "The White Whore and the Bit Player." She also had a great personal success in David Rabe's "In the Boom Boom Room" at Joseph Papp's Public Theater.
In the mid-1970s, she began appearing in movies including Allen's "Manhattan," "Stardust Memories," "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "New York Stories," Mazursky's "Next Stop Greenwich Village" and "Willie and Phil," "Arthur" with Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli, John Schlesinger's "Honky Tonk Freeway," "Moonstruck" with Cher, the 1988 comedy "License to Drive," "Used People" with Shirley MacLaine and Marcello Mastroianni, "Dummy" with Adrien Brody, and more recently "Noise" with Tim Robbins, "Puccini For Beginners" with Gretchen Mol, and "When Evening Comes" with Philip Bosco and Anne Meara in 2009.
She also had numerous TV roles and and played a wide assortment of characters on "Law and Order," appearing frequently throughout the show's long run.
She is survived by a sister, a niece and two nephews.