Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘Frasier’: The Actress Who Almost Played Niles’ Wife Maris

‘Frasier’: The Actress Who Almost Played Niles’ Wife Maris

Frasier’s enigmatic character Maris nearly turned into an on-screen character, but after all the jokes made at her expense, the creators realized they could never find an actress to fill the role. 

The ongoing absence of Maris remains one of Frasier’s most memorable gags. Her character was one of the most prominent in the story, but she never made a physical appearance. Nonetheless, she continued to be a part of the plot until she and Niles divorced.

When the Cheers spinoff first debuted, the writers were looking to make her into a sort of throwback to Norm Peterson’s wife, Vera. Norm relentlessly poked fun at Vera and hilariously described her personality and appearance, just as Frasier and Niles did with Maris. 

Vera never made a real appearance on Cheers. However, there was one cameo that almost showed her face. In a Thanksgiving episode, the bar gang got into a food fight that ended with Diane Lane launching a pie at Sam. Instead of reaching its intended target, it hit Vera in the face. The camera then showed Vera completely unrecognizable and covered in chocolate frosting. 

Maris Was Supposed to Make a Live Apperance During ‘Frasier’s First Season

Much like Vera, Maris also almost earned an appearance on Frasier—twice. In an installment titled Voyage of the Damned, fans caught a glimpse of her shadow through a shower curtain. In another named Rooms with a View, Niles had a memory of his wife after one of her many plastic surgeries, and she was completely covered in bandages.

Frasier co-creator David Lee shared that the parallels between Vera and Maris happened organically. While he and the writers opened the show with her being a callback, they wanted to surprise fans by bringing a living actress to the screen.

“When David [Angell], Peter [Casey], and I were writing the pilot, we thought, ‘Let’s pull a fast one on the audience and make them think that we’re going to do a thing like Norm’s wife, Vera, in Cheers, where he talk about her, but you never see her. Let’s do that for a few episodes, and then surprise — we’re actually going to see her. So we weren’t ripping off that Cheers thing after all,’” he told Yahoo in 2016.

The creators nearly hired an actress to play the role, too, Julia Duffy. Duffy had been a major star at the time having appeared in Newhart and Designing Women. Nile’s actor David Hyde Pierce also pushed interest in casting Sully’s Valerie Mahaffey as Maris. But in the end, no one could fill the character’s shoes.

“Two or three episodes in, she was already so bizarre, she was uncastable,” Lee continued. “So we just went, ‘Well, we’re never going to see her.’ Although we did see the shadow of her behind a shower curtain once.”