The undaunted Frann spent the next eight years as Joanna Loudon, the perky comic foil to the dour Vermont innkeeper played by Newhart. "I don't think Mary ever got the credit for what she did," he says, "and that's because she did it so well." Even after the show ended in 1990, Frann remained friends with her TV ex. "Mary and I had been playing phone tag [to catch up]," says Newhart, "and the next thing I heard was she had died in her sleep."
On Sept. 23, Frann's boyfriend, L.A. businessman John Cookman, discovered the St. Louis-born, divorced actress dead at 55 of an apparent heart attack in her Beverly Hills home. Friends were stunned. The night before, says one, "Mary was so vivacious" while planning a fund-raiser for an L.A. women's shelter, one of several charities she supported between TV movies and guest shots. Pal Diahann Carroll, who battled breast cancer earlier this year, says Frann was always there for her. "Mary wouldn't just send flowers," says Carroll, 63. "She handpicked me this huge bouquet of white roses and brought them over herself with a note that said, 'I'm sorry you've been sick.' That sums up Mary Frann."