Barbara Bosson, who turned a fleeting cameo as an impatient single mother on the popular station-house drama series “Hill Street Blues” into a recurrent role as a police captain’s tenacious ex-wife, died Feb. 18 at a hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 83 years old.
Jesse Bochco, her son, confirmed her death but did not explain.
During its 1981-1987 run, “Hill Street Blues,” co-created by Ms. Bosson’s then-husband, Steven Bochco, reinvented the police show genre with cinéma vérité-style camera work and characters with flaws, fears, and contradictions on full display. Few characters carried as much emotional weight as Ms. Bosson’s Fay Furillo.
Fay stormed into the station in the pilot episode to face her ex-husband. After his child-support check, Frank Furillo (Daniel J. Travanti) bounced. Fay doesn’t hold back, yelling at the captain in front of the other cops.
Ms. Bosson’s scene, according to Steven Bochco, was intended to be a one-time appearance to avoid clashes with network executives about nepotism. Viewers, on the other hand, had their say. Fay was an instant success and was rapidly included in the show.
Ms. Bosson was nominated for five Emmy Awards in five years for her supporting role as a character who reinvents herself to rescue crime victims and adopts cheeky confidence with distinctive sentence-starters like “Hey, buster.”
“I had a following,” Ms. Bosson said in 1987.
She claimed that women would write to her detailing how much they related to Fay’s struggles, stating, “you are me, and if you can do well, so can I.”
“So I started to feel like I was representing some significant folks who aren’t represented on television,” Ms. Bosson explained.
Steven Bochco quit the show after the fourth season because of disagreements with the show’s producers, MTM Enterprises, about plots and budgets. Michael Kozoll, the show’s co-creator, left during the second season.
After the fifth season, Ms. Bosson left the show, claiming that the writers and producers were steadily removing her character’s intricacies.
“I’m like Fay in some amusing ways,” she said in 1983. “I will occasionally become so enraged by something that I will speak excessively loudly in public….” “Fay is a never-ending victim.”
Ms. Bosson frequently stated that one of her most rewarding moments came from researching the real-life profession of a victim advocate and convincing Bochco to include it in the progression of her “Hill Street Blues” character.
“These are courageous people who do this job,” she said. “So I investigated what that profession was and went to my husband and said, ‘Come on, let’s make Fay — the perfect victim, for God’s sake — a victims’ advocate. It’s a fantastic progression.’ It took him a year to accept my demands, but he did.”
The show acquired a devoted fan base who pondered over aspects like the show’s setting (an unknown gritty Northern city that Steven Bochco has speculated was a hybrid of “Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, and Newark”). “Be careful out there!” said Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) at the end of the precinct’s morning briefing. It became a staple phrase in everyday speech for years.
Ms. Bosson went on to star in three crime dramas for ABC, including “Hooperman” (1987-1989) as a police captain opposite co-star John Ritter, “Cop Rock” (1990) as a mayor, and “Murder One” (1995-1997) as a deputy district attorney). She received her sixth Emmy nomination for supporting actress in a drama series for her role.
Barbara Ann Bosson was born on November 1, 1939, in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, and spent her childhood in adjacent Belle Vernon, south of Pittsburgh.
She was admitted into Carnegie Tech’s theatrical department (now Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh) but couldn’t pay the cost.
She moved to New York and worked in various occupations, including television production assistant and hostess at Manhattan’s Playboy Club, while also attending acting training.
She enrolled at Carnegie Tech as a 26-year-old freshman in 1965. She met Bochco (they married in 1969) and two young actors, Bruce Weitz and Charles Haid, who would later work with her on “Hill Street Blues.”
During her summer break, Ms. Bosson secured a job with the Committee, a San Francisco-based improv company. She did not return to Pittsburgh to complete her degree.
Ms. Bosson made her cinematic debut as a nurse in the 1968 criminal thriller “Bullitt,” starring Steve McQueen. She also participated in the 1974 film adaption of the Broadway musical “Mame,” starring Lucille Ball, and the conspiracy drama “Capricorn One” (1977).
Ms. Bosson’s marriage to Bochco was annulled. Her son is survived by a daughter, Melissa Bochco, a sibling, and two grandchildren.
Ms. Bosson was pleased that her performance in “Hill Street Blues” touched a nerve. In an interview in 1983, she stated that there were two categories of fan mail.
“I get a lot of correspondence from males saying I detest you, and it’s clear that they assume I’m their ex-wife,” she explained. “But most of my letters are from folks who say, ‘Thank God, I see some of my difficulties on television.”