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Suzanne Pleshette

Suzanne Pleshette

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Also Known As: Died: January 17, 2008
Born: January 31, 1937 Cause of Death: respiratory failure/cancer
Birth Place: New York, New York Profession: actress, home furnishings designer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Known for her quick-wit and air of urban sophistication, actress Suzanne Pleshette enjoyed more than four decades in entertainment, appearing in over 30 films, starring in four sitcoms, and earning four Emmy nominations. She was best known for her portrayal of the wisecracking modern wife opposite straight man Bob Newhart in the acclaimed sitcom "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78), but had earned prior accolades as a feisty and glamorous ingénue on Broadway. An early career of madcap comedies, forgettable features, and dozens of TV spots generally failed to showcase Pleshette's studied dramatic chops or her racy, off-the cuff-humor, but she was at her best in the improvisational, bantering atmosphere of the many talk and game shows of the 1960s into the 1970s. Sadly, it was an era that had not yet figured out what to do with women who were not interested in careers as pinups or suburban TV moms, proving Pleshette was ahead of her time. Suzanne Pleshette was born on Jan. 31, 1937, and raised in New York City, NY where she was exposed to the entertainment business at an early age by her parents, Geraldine and Eugene. Her mother had been a professional dancer whom Pleshette fondly remembered as a...

Known for her quick-wit and air of urban sophistication, actress Suzanne Pleshette enjoyed more than four decades in entertainment, appearing in over 30 films, starring in four sitcoms, and earning four Emmy nominations. She was best known for her portrayal of the wisecracking modern wife opposite straight man Bob Newhart in the acclaimed sitcom "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78), but had earned prior accolades as a feisty and glamorous ingénue on Broadway. An early career of madcap comedies, forgettable features, and dozens of TV spots generally failed to showcase Pleshette's studied dramatic chops or her racy, off-the cuff-humor, but she was at her best in the improvisational, bantering atmosphere of the many talk and game shows of the 1960s into the 1970s. Sadly, it was an era that had not yet figured out what to do with women who were not interested in careers as pinups or suburban TV moms, proving Pleshette was ahead of her time. Suzanne Pleshette was born on Jan. 31, 1937, and raised in New York City, NY where she was exposed to the entertainment business at an early age by her parents, Geraldine and Eugene. Her mother had been a professional dancer whom Pleshette fondly remembered as a very funny, glamorous redhead, while her father managed local live entertainment venues, including the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, which he helped transform into a hotspot for fledgling rock n' roll during the 1950s. Pleshette began taking classes with renowned acting coach Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she was cast in a production of the postwar drama "Truckline Café" at the age of just 10 years old. She went on to attend the High School of the Performing Arts, but after a short and unsatisfying stint at Syracuse University, she returned to New York City and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater. In 1957, she landed a job as a Broadway understudy and the following year found herself promoted to cast member of "Compulsion." Legend had it that Pleshette's charming, sprightly performance in the show came to the attention of Jerry Lewis' camp, which was how she landed her big screen debut in his madcap comedy, "The Geisha Boy" (1958). Pleshette maintained a solid run on Broadway, appearing in "The Cold Wind and Warm" alongside Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach, the comedy "The Golden Fleecing," and taking the lead as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker" when Anne Bancroft vacated the role. She also began to appear on the small screen with guest spots on anthology dramas like "General Electric Theater." She earned her first Emmy nomination for portraying a drug-addicted nurse on a 1961 episode of "Dr. Kildare," before a big screen role opposite then teen heartthrob Troy Donahue in the fluffy "Rome Adventure" brought considerable attention to Pleshette's unique sparkle. Her performance won over her co-star and the two had a brief marriage shortly after the film's release. Following a recurring role as a co-ed on the ABC series "Channing" (1963-64), Pleshette stayed busy with feature films that were largely unworthy of her considerable talents. Her role as a local schoolteacher in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963) was certainly memorable and "Nevada Smith" (1966), co-starring Steve McQueen was compelling enough, but Pleshette generally was not tapped for the kinds of parts that created big screen stardom. A shift to comedy was a new showcase for the actress who was known for her raspy-voiced quick wit and bawdy nature. She had a good time in silly but amusing Disney farces like "The Ugly Dachshund" (1966), "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin" (1967) and "Blackbeard's Ghost" (1968), and starred as a button-up Yank looking for adventure in the classic madcap comedy "If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium" (1969). In the late '60s and early '70s, her facility with off-the-cuff one liners and racy humor made Pleshette an in-demand guest on TV talk and variety shows, and she even spiced up "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ) as guest host. Producers looking to cast a suitably wry and modern wife for stand-up comedian Bob Newhart's new sitcom knew she would be the perfect Emily Hartley. Undoubtedly the most recognizable role of Pleshette's career, it truly showcased her talents and sophisticated appeal as the school teacher wife of a slightly off-balance psychologist. The pair represented a new type of TV family - a professional couple with no kids who lived in a Chicago high-rise apartment and were frequently seen lounging in their king size bed. Pleshette earned two Emmy nominations for her run on the highly-acclaimed show and helped usher in a new image of the sitcom wife with her portrayal of a modern working woman who was smart, independent and enjoyed a healthy relationship with her devoted but slightly quirky husband. During the "Newhart" years the actress was continually tapped for her comic prowess, appearing on talk shows and "Hollywood Squares," where she flexed her quick wit and sarcasm with memorable results. She also returned to the Disney fold with a lead in "The Shaggy D.A." (1976) - a years-later sequel to "The Shaggy Dog" - and another fold, of sorts, as the designer of a line of bed linens called Bedside Manor. After "Newhart" wrapped, Pleshette was seen on the big screen in "Oh God, Book II" (1980) and made several attempts at continued sitcom success with the short-lived series "Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs" (CBS, 1984) and "Bridges to Cross" (CBS, 1986) - both of which she helped to co-create - as well as "Nightingales" (NBC, 1989). Of her numerous TV films, her most memorable role of that era was her Emmy-nominated turn as "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean" (CBS, 1990), in which she portrayed the tyrannical billionaire mogul with startling iciness and arrogance. That same year, she got back into the Hartley's bed one last time for one of the most talked-about TV series finales in history. For the last episode of Newhart's second hit comedy, "Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990), Newhart woke up beside Pleshette on the set of their old show and told her of a strange dream where he was an innkeeper in New England, suggesting that the entire show had been but a dream of his previous character. Pleshette returned to the regular TV lineup in 1994, starring opposite Hal Linden as a couple whose older children move back in with them in the short-lived "The Boys Are Back" (CBS, 1994-95). She remained active in TV movies, and in 1998, lent her recognizable voice to the character of Zira in Disney's animated "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride." In 2001, she provided the voices of Yubaba and Zeniba in the English adaptation of the Japanese animated film "Spirited Away" (2001), but also made headlines for marrying actor Tom Poston. Poston had been a regular on "Newhart" - the second incarnation of Bob's career - and an occasional guest on "The Bob Newhart Show." The pair had dated nearly four decades earlier in New York before Pleshette married an oil executive, to whom she remained married until his death in 2000. Pleshette was wooed back to television in 2002 by the producers of the hit sitcom "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006) and guested as the long-lost barkeeper mother of Karen Walker (Megan Mullally). Producers were won over by her performance and cast her in their subsequent series "Good Morning, Miami" (NBC, 2002-2004) as Claire Arnold - the randy, outspoken TV station owner and grandmother to lead character Jake (Mark Feuerstein). Pleshette stepped into the recurring role of Katey Sagal's mother Laura on the ABC sitcom "8 Simple Rules..." (ABC, 2002-05) following the death of series lead John Ritter; a role which reunited Pleshette with James Garner, with whom she had co-starred in the comedy "Support Your Local Gunfighter" (1970). In the summer of 2006, Pleshette announced that she was being treated for lung cancer. She appeared to be recovering successfully, though the following spring, her husband Poston died from respiratory failure, and later in the year she barely survived pneumonia. Sadly, only a year after her husband died, Pleshette lost her battle against cancer, with the beloved actress passing away at age 70 from respiratory failure.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Last Mogul, The (2005) Cast
2.
 Spirited Away (2002) Voice Of Yubaba/Zeniba (English Language)
3.
 Lion King II: Simba's Pride, The (1998) Voice Of Zira
5.
 Twist of the Knife, A (1993) Dr Rachel Walters
6.
 Battling For Baby (1991) Marie Peters
7.
 Leona Helmsley: The Queen Of Mean (1990) Leona Helmsley
8.
 Alone in the Neon Jungle (1988) Captain Janet Hamilton
9.
 Stranger Waits, A (1987) Kate Bennington
10.
 Kojak: The Belarus File (1985) Dana Sutton
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Worked for a time as a designer of bed linens and home furnishings
:
Made stage debut in "Truckline Cafe"
1957:
Made Broadway debut in "Compulsion"
:
Earliest TV appearances, "The General Electric Theater" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"
1958:
Made film debut in the Jerry Lewis comedy, "The Geisha Boy"
1959:
Replaced Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker" on Broadway
1961:
Garnered first Emmy nomination for playing a drug addicted nurse on an episode of "Dr. Kildare" (NBC)
1962:
Returned to features after four years to play her first leading roles in "Rome Adventure" and "40 Pounds of Trouble"
1963:
First received top billing in a feature in the drama, "Wall of Noise"
1963:
Was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in "The Birds"
1963:
Played college student Lori Moore on the ABC drama series, "Channing"
1966:
Acted in the first of four features produced by Disney Studios, "The Ugly Dachsund"
1967:
First TV-movie, "Wings of Fire" (NBC)
1971:
Last feature film for five years, "Support Your Local Gunfighter" co-starring James Garner
1972:
Played Emily Hartley on the long-running CBS sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show"; received two Emmy nominations for the role
1976:
Returned to feature films to play the female lead in "The Shaggy D.A."; her final Disney feature to date
1979:
Acted in first TV miniseries, "Flesh and Blood" (CBS)
1980:
Last feature film credit to date, "Oh God, Book II"
1982:
Returned to Broadway in "Special Occasions"; closed after one performance
1984:
Played (also co-created) newspaperwoman Maggie Briggs on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "Suzanne Pleshette is Maggie Briggs"; directed by "Newhart" co-star Peter Bonerz
1986:
Played reporter Tracy Bridges on the short-lived CBS drama series, "Bridges to Cross"
1989:
Played Chris Broderick on the short-lived NBC medical drama, "Nightingales"
1990:
Reprised role of Emily Hartley on the last episode of Bob Newhart's later sitcom, "Newhart"; scene written and played to suggest that the entire series had been a dream of Newhart's earlier character, Dr. Robert Hartley
1990:
Starred on TV as "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean"; received fourth Emmy nomination
1994:
Starred in the role of Jackie Hansen opposite Hal Linden on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "The Boys Are Back"
1997:
Hosted the CBS special "Where Are They Now?"
2003:
Appeared in the ABC sitcom "8 Simple Rules" after John Ritter's death as the mother of Katey Sagal's character
2004:
Guest-starred in several episodes of "Will and Grace" (NBC) as Karen Walker's (Megan Mullally) estranged mother
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Syracuse University: Syracuse , New York -
The Neigborhood Playhouse: New York , New York -
The School of Performing Arts: New York , New York -

Notes

Pleshette was the first and only female non-singing, non-comic guest host of NBC's "The Tonight Show".

Her other Broadway appearances include the plays "Two for the Seesaw" and "The Miracle Worker" (in both cases succeding Anne Bancroft), "The Cold and the Warm", "The Golden Fleecing" and "Special Occasions".

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Troy Donahue. Actor. Married on January 4, 1964; divorced on September 8, 1964; acted together in "Rome Adventure" (1962) and "A Distant Trumpet" (1964).
husband:
Thomas Joseph Gallagher III. Met in 1965; married from March 16, 1968 until his death on January 21, 2000.
husband:
Tom Poston. Actor. Announced engagement in December 2000; married on May 11, 2001.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Eugene Pleshette. Motion picture, theater and network TV executive. Died September 1991 in his mid-70s; was vice president and general manager of Paramount Theater in NY during its heyday; helped turn the Brooklyn Paramount into a showcase for rock'n'roll shows in the 1950s; later joined ABC-TV as vice president and developed a new marketing format for TV shows; became vice president of Don Reid Productions; moved to California in 1974 to become managing director of the Shubert Theater in Century City.
mother:
Geraldine Pleshette. Dancer. Performed under stage name Geraldine Rivers.

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