April 15, 1924-April 3, 2019
Carmelita Pope, a pioneer in television, Broadway actor, long-time volunteer for the Warhawk Air Museum, and mother to two sons, passed away on April 3 at the age of 94. In an acting career that spanned over sixty years, Carmelita performed in theater, radio, television, and film. In 1947, she played Stella in Tennessee William's "Streetcar Called Desire," opening opposite her childhood friend Marlon Brando. It fulfilled a childhood dream to have her name in lights on Broadway. Soon after, she returned home to Chicago and married H. Charles Ballenger II, a newspaper reporter, and began a career in television.
At a time when Chicago was the hub for the new industry, Carmelita appeared as a panelist on one of the first nationally syndicated game shows, "Down You Go," and its first televised soap opera, "Hawkins Falls." She was a regular as well on the nightly newscasts, performing commercials live in an era before videotape. Dubbed "one of the first ladies of Chicago television," Carmelita went on to host a range of local television shows, appeared on radio dramas, and a range of commercials. In 1961, she became the spokesperson for Pam cooking spray, and for a decade her commercials appeared on national TV, where she became famous for sliding eggs off frying pans.
In the seventies, Carmelita Pope left Chicago to find work in Los Angeles, where she appeared in soap operas, including "Days of Our Lives" and "General Hospital," as well as the first Spiderman TV movie. Her love of animals led her to a position with the Pet Food Institute, and later, the director of the Hollywood office of the American Humane Association, where she monitored the safety of animal action in TV and move productions.
In the late 1980s, she retired to Florida with her second husband. After he died in 1995, Carmelita moved to Boise, Idaho, to be closer to her family. There she began her final encore as a volunteer for the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, coordinating the Veteran's History Project. Carmelita was responsible for helping to organize interviews with hundreds of local veterans about their experiences in war. Among these were her own contribution. At age 21, Carmelita performed with the USO in the European theater in the last months of World War II, where she appeared in "Kiss and Tell" and other productions performed for American troops in Italy.
Throughout her storied career, Carmelita also managed to be a wonderful mom to her two sons, and later, an inspiration to her four grandchildren. Despite the demands of being a professional woman, she always found time to watch a son compete in a swim meet, comfort another through an adolescent heartbreak, and celebrate both of their accomplishments, no matter how small. Though she never encouraged any of them to be actors, two of Carmelita's granddaughters are actors in New York. Everywhere she went, she made friends, and during her last twenty years living in Boise, Carmelita enjoyed a large community of admirers, many of them at Warhawk Air Museum. A glass case commemorating her time in the USO during the Second World War resides there, lovingly curated by her friends.
Carmelita Pope is survived by her two sons, Bruce Ballenger and Howard ("Buzz") Ballenger, as well as her two daughters-in-law, Karen Kelley and Margaret Rinkovsky. Her four grandchildren include Becca Ballenger and Natalie Ballenger, both of whom reside in New York. Julia Ballenger of Boise, and Taylor Ballenger of Los Angeles. There will be two events to honor Carmelita on Monday, April 15. At 10 am, there will be a funeral mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Latah, and at 2 pm there will be a celebration of her life at Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa. In lieu of flowers, the family requests friends make contributions in her name to the Warhawk Air Museum or the Idaho Humane Society.
Published in Idaho Statesman on Apr. 7, 2019.