Sunday, January 20, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette

Sometime in the mid 70s Lorenzo Music, one of the creators of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW (and voice of Carlton the Doorman and Garfield the cat) and his wife Henrietta starred in a pilot. I went to the taping. For the big finale Lorenzo & Henrietta were joined on stage by the MTM all-stars. All the cast members from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, RHODA, PHYLLIS, maybe even PAUL SANDS’ FRIENDS AND LOVERS was that year. It was quite dazzling. Idols like Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore in her absolute prime. But the thing that struck me was how Suzanne Pleshette was so stunningly beautiful that it was almost like she was in color and everyone else was in black in white. She was simply radiant. Shimmering. Breathtaking. And all she did was just stand there.

If there is such a thing as star presence Suzanne Pleshette had it.

She passed away on Saturday. She was only 70. Don’t smoke.

I’m sure when you think of her you think of Emily Hartley, Bob Newhart’s wife on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. Words you might use to describe her – in addition to gorgeous – are funny, sophisticated, smart, compassionate, definitely sexy. And these would all be accurate. But there’s one more.

Raunchy.

Yes, dear sweet Emily Hartley could drop F-bombs with the best of ‘em. And every other word and expression you might hear on DEADWOOD. But God was she funny. Used to maximum effect, and in that deep husky voice, Suzanne could shock and pulverize you almost instantly. And somehow she always managed to be racy without being vulgar. How do you do that? I guess that’s why the Tramp is still a Lady.

Maybe the most thankless role in sitcoms is the star’s wife. Usually they’re relegated to the voice of reason, the wet blanket. Not Suzanne. She was Bob’s partner, his equal. Bob and Emily didn’t have to fight to be funny. They didn’t have to be opposites. They were grown-ups. Their comedy sprung from how real and relatable they were. You always bought them as a couple – even if the “Bob Newharts” of the world don’t usually get the “Suzanne Pleshettes”. You just knew they had a good sex life. And you knew they’d be together forever (even if Bob did have this bizarre dream where he was running an inn and married to someone else).

I will always think of Suzanne Pleshette as she was that night at the pilot. We lost a gifted comedienne, a first class beauty, and one helluva broad.

32 comments:

Mike Barer said...

What a sad loss for the TV community.

TCinLA said...

And she will always be remembered as the best thing (still is on every viewing) of "The Birds." Exactly the kind of strong, intelligent presence you want on your side in a situation like that.

Christina said...

I also loved her performance in The Birds - I saw it not knowing she was in it, knowing her only as Emily, and was blown away.

She was my favorite sitcom wife in one of my favorite sitcoms of all times. I was really sad to hear she passed away.

Dwacon® said...

First Suzanne... then Allan Melvin. All the greats are disappearing. YIKES!

I googled her for my own blog and there were tons of photos of her in her prime. You are right Ken, she was a beauty and radiated class (something today's pop tarts could stand to learn).

Thanks to television, she will remain immortal. May she rest in peace.

Vermonter 17032 said...

One of my favorite moments in each telecast of the Oscars is when they take a few minutes to honor those stars who have passed away during the past year. I imagine that Suzanne will receive an outstanding round of applause when they honor her.

Anonymous said...

Yet she seemed like the odd-one out in Hollywood careers for female actresses, and it's hard to understand. She was in all kinds of vehicles (even Jerry Lewis) and could hold her own quite well, and she wasn't at all difficult to look at, even brunette (was that the problem, she wasn't blonde??) but in the end, she never really became recognized except due to the TV material. In which I feel, she was just great. But it makes you wonder.

Scott said...

melkin was a terrificly unappreciated character actors that those of us that grew up on TV believe always existed.

there are a few "sitcom wives" (not counting the Lucys and Roseannes) that were funny enough that they could almost have had equal billing and the shows would be awful without them.

Debra Barone
Mortisha Adams
Laura Petrie
Edith Bunker (did she have co-top-billing?)
Elyse Keaton (who i think actually had top billing)
Claire Huxtable
Weezy Jefferson
Peg Bundy
Lois from Malcolm in the middle (also top billing?)

Doktor Frank Doe said...

As an adolescent I had the good fortune of meeting her on the set of "Support your local gunfighter" and it's true, she was HOT, in fact, it was her tush way back then that inspired me to be a butt-man! She was funny and potty-mouthed and infectious to be around. Now we have the likes of Lindsay Lohan in this generation?

Alto2 said...

Witty, funny, racy, beautiful and with the smokiest, unforgettable voice. What a tragic loss.

a. buck short said...

Well put, appreciated, and definitedly not overwritten. Ken, take two "Hi Bobs" and toast you both.

Steve said...

Nicely done, Ken. She was really one of a kind. Sorry to go off on a tangent here but for a such a funny guy, you have a tremendous talent for writing these serious, human moments like this tribute. Same thing with, say, Mash or Cheers: great comedy scenes followed by a scene that clutches at your heart. I was hoping that some time in the future, you could offer your thoughts on balancing the humorous and sentimental in your writing. It's something you've always seemed to do so well.

Anonymous said...

Her beauty was matched only by her brilliant comic performances which never seemed forced or rehearsed. You felt totally at ease in any of her scenes. And then there was that voice....oh..that voice! The kind of voice that would make a bishop kick in a stained glass window.

Mike McCann said...

Suzanne was certainly unique -- a truly modern and self-empowered woman. She came off on screen as bright, clever, forceful, yet subtle. Never a clown, never a fool... always adding a strong presence to the show or film.

She'll be missed.

Paul Duca said...

Not to mention her talents in fabric design...many of the bed linens Bob and Emily slept upon were Suzanne's handiwork.

Diogo said...

I guess I'm gonna dust off my BNS DVDs today, and make kind of a marathon.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I was surprised by how sad I felt when I learned yesterday that Suzanne had died. She was definitely something else. Never mind the Bob Newharts of the world; how often did the Tom Postons of the world get the Suzanne Pleshettes? (Who finds a husband in her pretend-husband's dreams? "And in this dream I had this weird handyman. You'd like him.") Clearly, along with being funny, she found funny sexy as well.

But Death is always a good/bad kinda thing: on the one hand, we lost Suzanne and Allan this week. On the GOOD side, we lost Bobby Fisher, the nutcase who felt Hitler was too lenient with the Jews. Oh yeah, he played chess well, like that makes up for being a swine.

I'd have been more than willing to hear Suzanne's voice be a less "smoky", if she'd been able to hang around longer. 70 is much too young.

Anonymous said...

Yah, I'm so glad someone else thought of her as a broad - in the nicest sense of the word, of course!! (Don't you just hate how the word broad has negative connotations associated with it? I love being thought of as a broad, but I will never be as sophisticated as Suzanne, though. And I'm okay with that.)

I loved her. I adored her. I wanted to BE her my whole life. The only thing I never wanted to emulate was the smoking part. Smoking is a disgusting habit IMO. It's not for me at all. Could have to do with the fact that my own mother, another minor broad on the Broad Scale, still smokes tar to this day, and she's set to turn 70 in a month. *gagging*

Oh, I am so sad she left us. The world will never be able to duplicate her. And I'm okay with that, too. She was a one-of-a-kind in my eyes. A true gift to us from the gawds. To them I say, "Thank you for letting us enjoy her presence for some long. It was a true treat and sheer pleasure."

VP81955 said...

Yes, dear sweet Emily Hartley could drop F-bombs with the best of ‘em. And every other word and expression you might hear on DEADWOOD. But God was she funny. Used to maximum effect, and in that deep husky voice, Suzanne could shock and pulverize you almost instantly. And somehow she always managed to be racy without being vulgar. How do you do that? I guess that’s why the Tramp is still a Lady.

I'm sure right now, somewhere in heaven, Suzanne is swapping ribald jokes with Carole Lombard, another beauty with a sailor's vocabulary. If Suzanne had been born 30 years earlier, and began her career when movie studios knew how to use funny, gorgeous actresses, her film career would've been right up there with Carole's. Of that I have no doubt.

Incidentally, not many are aware that Suzanne grew up in a theater family...well, sort of. Her father ran movie theaters, and for several years he managed the fabled Brooklyn Paramount, a classy Golden Age film palace where Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo sang on its stage in the early thirties and Alan Freed hosted his famed rock 'n' roll shows in the middle and late fifties.

The building was sold to Long Island University in 1962, which uses it for offices. The theater itself was converted into a gymnasium, with many of the facades and other features left intact; I saw several games there, and it was arguably the funkiest venue in Division I college basketball. LIU built a new gym a few years ago, and I'm not sure what it's doing with the space now.

charity said...

who didn't fall in love with suzanne pleshette in "rome adventure"?

as 13 year old girls, "rome adventure" was our first introduction to "adult" themed romance films. and what a film it was for our young eyes! the lushness of italy, the italian lover, the american lover, the song "al di la," and at its center was beautiful, dark haired sophisticated suzanne pleshette.

we ALL wanted to be her! to be swept away by rossano brazzi! to be driven away on a cute vespa by troy donahue! and we also wanted to have that hairdo! soon my short blondish wavy hair wrapped around my ears, too.

i've always admired suzanne pleshette for having a good career and for having a good long marriage - and then for rekindling a long-ago love with tom poston. now that, my friends, is what living a full life is all about.

i followed her like everyone else through other films and visits with carson and as emily on the bob newhart show up to her recent short stints on other sit-coms.

suzanne was quoted once as saying that emily and bob's relationship was one of the first real "adult" relationships on tv that didn't involve children.

emily and bob obviously loved each other; they both had careers; they had full adult lives that didn't revolve around kids as the center of attention - though, of course, their friends and bob's patients might have qualified as that.

i'm not surprised that in person suzanne was a colorful universe unto herself. there was no one like her on film or tv, making her passing all the more sad and melancholy.

good night, suzanne.


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azredsoxgal said...

She was just great. Don't know anyone who didn't like her! I even enjoyed her last silly role as Karen's con artist mother on Will & Grace. I'm sure she's up there talking to my dear Mother, also a husky-voiced, truck driver talkin' great funny broad!

jbryant said...

God, she was awesome. I think she was one of my first celeb crushes, after seeing a TV broadcast of The Birds. When she started coming into my home every week with Newhart, it was a gift from God. RIP

Michael Jones said...

Thanks to her gravelly voice, she won the role of voicing Yubaba and Zeniba in Spirited Away.
I'll always remember her as Emily and the selfless school teacher in the Birds.

Ouisch said...

I have to laugh because our family religiously watched the MTM Show and Bob Newhart on Saturday nights, and like clockwork during the opening credits my dad would always ask, "How are we supposed to believe that a guy like that could land a broad like Suzanne Pleshette?" (His words, not mine.)
RIP Suzanne

CarolMR said...

Suzanne Pleshette had a lot of class because it took class to be bawdy and irreverant and still remain a lady. I remember watching her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, both pre-Bob Newhart Show and after. She wore beautiful long gowns and sequined tops - she always looked immaculate. And she always carried a small purse in which she kept the poem that she wrote and would read on that night to Johnny. Her poem was usually about her husband, Tommy Gallagher. No actress today can come close to her and she will be missed.

flyoverguy said...

I believe you captured her quite well. Smart, sexy, radiant.

ajmilner said...

It's obvious from watching the retrospectives this weekend that Suzanne and Bob had an amazing rapport -- both secure enough in their own talents that they each gave the other more than enough room. We won't see her likes again soon.

Ken>> Don't know if you were aware that just as you spent one year of your life in Syracuse, so did Suzanne (as an SU undergrad)...

John said...

She was stunningly beautiful in mid 70's, we people are her fan at the time. I felt like loss my friend. Yes you're right, Don't smoke.
Breakdown Recovery

cgeye said...

When I saw her on the AMERICAN MASTERS bio on Newhart, with her exquisite hair and those smoky eyes, I thought, yes, the Myra Breckinridge Pledge is in effect, and it's a damn shame I didn't invoke sooner.

Guess my seeing her as a crush object required being sure I was an adult, if not the best adult I could be. There was nothing puerile or coy about her sensuality and intelligence; she required, for mere adulation, that a fan step up his or her game.

Godspeed, Ms. Pleshette.

jbryant said...

Turner Classic Movies is showing Suzanne in Support Your Local Gunfighter tonight (1/25/08) at 8:30 p.m. PST. It was already on the schedule, not a tribute or anything.

Anonymous said...

I wish you would also pay tribute to the equally great Lois Nettleton. She passed away this week as well.

depewbarb said...

Don't Smoke...Don't Smoke....Don't Smoke. I wrote Ms. Pleshette a fan letter as a teenager I knew how really special she was, even in some of the Warner Bros. schlock soap operas of the era. Some of the comments about how she stood out in a crowd are right on the money. She didn't have the career her talent could support, but she just wanted to work and couldn't help being spectacular at whatever came her way. I have never seen a hotter love scene than the scene outside the motel with Ben Gazarra in Rage To Live. She didn't have to take off any clothes to burn up the screen. Gazarra was way beyond his material as well. Elizabeth McGovern is somewhat like Suzanne in that she dominates the screen even in a subordinate role, just by her sheer looks and presence. I wish I had known Suzanne. I know I would have been very lucky to call Suzanne a friend. Great humor and sass. Could have done more top rate screen comedy, as well as drama, had it been offered. Anyone had to be drawn to her for all these reasons and more. Wish she could have been offered the material that approached her talents. There were many of the era like Tuesday Weld, Angie Dickenson, and others that were pigeon-holed by the system to some extent. We took what we could get and wanted more. I have spent the last few days, after watching Suzanne's Emmy website interview, looking at any old clips and performances I could find online and ordering some movies of hers off Amazon. Great to remember her and to see her always.

Joel Engleson said...

I had a massive crush for her from the time I was a kid.god I love her! she was female perfection to me.