As a child (from the ages of 9-13) Barbara Tarbuck performed as a regular for a children's radio series called Storyland, which aired on the AM Station WWJ in Detroit, Michigan. While in college, she participated in the production of Where's Charley, which toured throughout Europe. She also earned her Master's Degree in Theater from the University of Michigan. She then went to Indiana University to work as the lead actress in their inaugural theater touring company season. She also began to work on her Ph.D. and taught beginning acting. While at Indiana University she was granted a Fulbright Scholarship to LAMDA. She then moved to New York to pursue her acting career.
Tarbuck suffered from the neurodegenerative Creutzfeldt–Jakob disorder. She passed away due to complications of the disease in her Los Angeles home on December 26, 2016 at the age of 74.
She has been a prolific character actress, working regularly on television since the 70s. She has appeared in the classic series The Waltons, The Incredible Hulk, Charlie's Angels, Little House on the Prairie, and M*A*S*H. She had recurring roles on Cagney & Lacey, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and NYPD Blue. She has appeared more recently on hit shows Mad Men and Dexter.