Most people who hear the name Sally Struthers probably think of her role decades ago as Gloria Bunker Stivic.

Gloria was the daughter of Archie and Edith Bunker, played by Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton in the wildly popular and socially prescient TV situation comedy "All in the Family," which ran from 1971 to 1979.

Rob Reiner made up the rest of the family quartet as Gloria's husband, Michael Stivic, although he mostly was called "Meathead" by his bigoted, working class father-in-law.

But it's not the 1970s anymore. Both O'Connor and Stapleton have died, and Struthers and Reiner, both 67 this year, have moved on separately through careers in show business.

In the intervening years, Struthers has done many roles -- in TV sitcoms, on game shows, and as voiceovers for a variety of animated characters. But in the millennium, she's found a new niche: in musical theater.

That's what brings her to Eugene this weekend, when she plays the role of Dolly Levi, the title character in "Hello, Dolly!" and one of musical theater's more durable and oft-revived characters.

The stop at the Hult Center is part of a 70-city tour blanketing the United States to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tony-winning musical.

A couple of weeks ago, a few days after the 100th performance on the tour, Struthers stepped off the bus in Reno, the next stop on the schedule.

"I'm exhausted," she said over the telephone, "not because of the trip, but because when we got off the bellman wouldn't let me take my 43 things to my room by myself. And I had to make a fuss over that because I don't dare let my stuff out of my sight.

"That was frustrating, but on every tour there always has to be a few rotten apples along with all the good ones."

Generally, she loves traveling by bus from city to city, staying and performing in communities of all sizes.

"How else can you sit and ride and see so much of the country?" Struthers said. "Most people fly over America, and they never see the people who live and work along the way.

"Not enough of us have spent a good deal of time experiencing the country where we live."

Then there's the history, such as driving to Reno over Donner Pass, where a wagon train dubbed the Donner Party became notorious when it was stranded over winter. It lost nearly half of its 81 members -- some say by cannibalism -- as they struggled to survive the weather and reach their destination in California.

"Everybody was just glued to the windows when we came through there," Struthers said.

She's especially happy to be touring with a musical that she believes is admirably suited for this stage of her career.

"It's one of my favorite musicals and favorite roles, and there really aren't that many good ones for women over 40," she said. "But I really don't think anyone under 50 should be playing Dolly.

"She's a widow who was married to a man she loved for a long, long time and then lost him. She spends a lot of time talking to him -- that's not a role made for someone really young or inexperienced in life."

In fact, in Struthers' book, choosing the young Barbra Streisand to play Dolly in the movie was probably one of the greatest miscastings of all time.

"In the first place, the name is Dolly Gallagher Levi -- she's an Irish character, not Jewish," Struthers said. Beyond that, to put a 24-year-old in the role, regardless of origin, "is a joke."

Struthers' idea of the perfect Dolly Levi is Shirley Booth. Booth, later TV's "Hazel," played the role in the 1958 movie, "The Matchmaker."

The nonmusical version, adapted from the play of the same name by Thornton Wilder, opened on Broadway in December 1955 with Ruth Gordon in the title role. It had a 486-performance run.

Its first incarnation on Broadway as "Hello, Dolly!" came in 1964, starring Carol Channing. It ran for six years and 2,844 shows, a Broadway longevity record that lasted 37 years. It was revived in 1995, again with Channing as Dolly, and played for another 116 performances.

But Struthers shouldn't sell herself short. She's gotten rave reviews as Dolly along the tour route, and she's had a busy career.

Struthers played in the movie "Five Easy Pieces," shot partially in Eugene with Jack Nicholson. She won two Emmys for her role as Gloria Stivic and has headlined national tours of "Annie," "Grease" and "The Odd Couple."

Besides all that, she's an Oregon native.

Struthers grew up in Portland, graduated from Grant High School and intended to be a doctor, like her dad, who had left the family when Struthers was a child.

When it came time for college, "I had a nervous breakdown," she said. "I cried for days -- I didn't know what was wrong.

"My mother finally got down on her knees and asked me what was wrong, and I said, 'I can't be a doctor -- Dad has no sons, I want to be a doctor for Dad. But I can't work on a cadaver for a year -- I don't have the stomach for it,'?" she wailed.

No problem, her mom said. You don't have to be a doctor. Why don't you be an actor?

That's how Struthers got to the Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts and was named its "most promising student," on the road to where she is now.

Follow Randi on Twitter @BjornstadRandi. Email randi.bjornstad@registerguard.com.

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