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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: Cast ... actress home furnishings designer
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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 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.

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