Helen Slayton-Hughes, a prolific character actor with small parts in scores of television shows and films but best known for her recurring role as court stenographer Ethel Beavers on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, has died. She was 92.
Her family announced her death on Facebook yesterday, writing, “Helen passed away last night. Her pain has ended but her fierce spirit lives on. Thank you for the love and support of her and her work. Rest sweet one. -With love: The Hughes family”
No additional details were immediately available.
Coming late in life to professional TV and film acting – she had performed frequently on stage in the San Francisco area, and elsewhere, for many years – Slayton-Hughes earned her first film and tv credits in the early 1980s, with appearances in the Albert Finney-Diane Keaton feature Shoot The Moon and the Valerie Bertinelli TV-movie The Princess and the Cabbie.
She turned her attention to performing more seriously in the early 2000s, with roles as elderly women on Nash Bridges, The Drew Carey Show, Judging Amy, The West Wing, NYPD Blue, Malcolm in the Middle, Arrested Development, My Name is Earl, True Blood, Veronica Mars, The Middle and Fresh Off the Boat.
Her signature role arrived in 2011, when she joined Parks and Recreation. Over the next four seasons and 11 episodes, she would play Ethel Beavers, the deadpan, no-nonsense stenographer surrounded by the eccentrics of the Pawnee local government offices. In one memorable Season 3 episode, the over-confident ladies man Tom (played by Aziz Ansari) attempts to charm Ethel, who will have none of it. In a Season 5 episode, April (Aubrey Plaza) and Andy (Chris Pratt) show up at Ethel’s house late at night to get her signature on a marriage license, only to find the stenographer otherwise occupied by a date that went well.
Asked by April and Andy whether Ethel would consent to be their adopted grandmother – a standard TV sitcom sentimental trope – Ethel shrugged it off with an unenthusiastic “fine.”
Last year, after being cast in the Ed Helms Peacock sitcom Rutherford Falls, Slayton-Hughes tweeted, “I am thrilled and honored to have even the teeniest of parts (though that of a magnificent woman on her birthday) in Rutherford Falls – on Peacock in April!…the show is SO special! Don’t miss it!”