Suzanne Pleshette


Actress
Suzanne Pleshette

About

Birth Place
New York, New York
Born
January 31, 1937
Died
January 17, 2008
Cause of Death
Respiratory Failure/cancer

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...

Family & Companions

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

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".

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 wo d 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.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

The Last Mogul (2005)
Herself
Spirited Away (2002)
Voice
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (1998)
Voice
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1996)
Herself
A Twist of the Knife (1993)
Battling for Baby (1992)
Marie Peters
Leona Helmsley: The Queen Of Mean (1990)
Alone in the Neon Jungle (1988)
A Stranger Waits (1987)
Kate Bennington
Kojak: The Belarus File (1985)
For Love Or Money (1984)
Joanna Piper
Dixie: Changing Habits (1983)
Dixie Cabot
One Cooks, The Other Doesn't (1983)
Fantasies (1982)
Carla Webber
Help Wanted: Male (1982)
Oh God! Book II (1980)
Paula
If Things Were Different (1980)
Hot Stuff (1979)
Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid (1978)
The Shaggy D.A. (1976)
Richie Brockelman: Missing 24 Hours (1976)
Elizabeth Morton
Law and Order (1976)
The Legend of Valentino (1975)
Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971)
Patience [Barton]
River of Gold (1971)
Anna
In Broad Daylight (1971)
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came (1970)
Ramona
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969)
Samantha
How To Make It (1969)
Diane Reed
The Power (1968)
Margery Lansing
Blackbeard's Ghost (1968)
Jo Anne Baker
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967)
Arabella Flagg
The Ugly Dachshund (1966)
Fran Garrison
Mister Buddwing (1966)
Fiddle
Nevada Smith (1966)
Pilar
A Rage To Live (1965)
Grace Caldwell
A Distant Trumpet (1964)
Kitty Mainwaring
Youngblood Hawke (1964)
Jeanne Green
Fate Is the Hunter (1964)
Martha Webster
Forty Pounds of Trouble (1963)
Chris Lockwood
Wall of Noise (1963)
Laura Rubio
The Birds (1963)
Annie Hayworth
Rome Adventure (1962)
Prudence Bell
The Geisha Boy (1958)
WAF sergeant Betty Pearson

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

The Last Mogul (2005)
Other
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1996)
Other

Cast (Special)

NBC'S FUNNIEST OUT-TAKES (2003)
Intimate Portrait: Suzanne Pleshette (2002)
Bob Newhart: The Last Sane Man (2001)
Interviewee
Steve McQueen: King of Cool (1998)
Where Are They Now? (1997)
Profiles (1994)
The Bob Newhart 20th 19th Anniversary Special (1991)
Herself
Sanford Meisner: The Theater's Best Kept Secret (1990)
Memories Then & Now (1988)
Mitzi: A Tribute to the American Housewife (1974)
Love Is a Lion's Roar (1961)
Renee Fontaine

Misc. Crew (Special)

The Bob Newhart 20th 19th Anniversary Special (1991)
Other

Cast (Short)

Searchers for a Special City (1966)
Herself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Star Maker (1981)
Flesh And Blood (1979)
Kate Fallon

Life Events

1957

Made Broadway debut in "Compulsion"

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

Played college student Lori Moore on the ABC drama series, "Channing"

1963

Was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in "The Birds"

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

Starred on TV as "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean"; received fourth Emmy nomination

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

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

Videos

Movie Clip

Power, The (1968) - He Won't Expose Himself! Nordlund (Michael Rennie), supervisor from the Pentagon, is intrigued because Hallson (Arthur O’Connell) claims that someone on the committee (including Earl Holliman, Richard Carlson, Suzanne Pleshette, Nehemiah Persoff and George Hamilton as Tanner), has the power to take over using mind-control, in The Power, 1968.
Power, The (1968) - Something Light And Bubbly Scientist Tanner (George Hamilton) disagrees but Margery (Suzanne Pleshette) insists that they follow-up when the wife of Hallson (Arthur O’Connell), colleague in their pain-tolerance research project, whom we know has been killed via mind-control, calls to say he hasn’t come home, in The Power, 1968.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) - Sayeth Solomon Opening with appearances by Sandy Baron, Norman Fell, Reva Rose, Marty Ingels (with cameos by Ben Gazzara and John Cassavetes), Michael Constantine, Peggy Cass, Suzanne Pleshette, Murray Hamilton and Hilarie Thompson, part of the tour group in If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, 1969.
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) - Lord Of The Reedy River Now in Switzerland, resolute American Samantha (Suzanne Pleshette) withstands the further advances of tour-guide Charlie (Ian MacShane) offering fondue, while the kids (Hilarie Thompson, Luke Halpin) hit a hostel where Donovan offers an original composition, in If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, 1969.
Rome Adventure (1962) - You Need No Lesson Librarian and temporary Roman resident Prudence (Suzanne Pleshette), rejected by her American lover, attempts to throw herself at Roberto (Rossano Brazzi), her benevolent instructor in all things Italian, in Delmer Daves' Rome Adventure, 1962.
Birds, The (1963) - Lost His Way In The Dark Stuck in Bodega Bay for the evening, San Francisco socialite Melanie (Tippi Hedren) engaged with local Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) in intense chat about Mitch, who interests them both, all of which is one big "MacGuffin" from director Alfred Hitchcock, in The Birds, 1963.
Rome Adventure (1962) - Lovers Must Learn Young Suzanne Pleshette is composure itself, as librarian Prudence, telling off her bosses (led by Norma Varden) with a clever nod to the book on which the movie is based then, with parents (Mary Patton, Maurice Wells), disembarking, meeting Albert (Hampton Fancher), opening Rome Adventure, 1962.
Rome Adventure (1962) - To Show Him I Have A Lover Don (Troy Donahue), American studying architecture in Rome, after another joyful date with his new, also-American girlfriend Prudence (Suzanne Pleshette), confronted by his cynical ex Lyda (Angie Dickinson), who, though she is using him, remains hard to resist, in Delmer Daves’ melodrama Rome Adventure, 1962.
Rome Adventure (1962) - Couple Of Stregas Experienced ex-pat architecture student Don (Troy Donahue) in Rome is now friendlier with his new American co-lodger Prudence (Suzanne Pleshette), who’s landed a new job, and director Delmer Daves takes the opportunity to resume his travelogue mode, in Rome Adventure, 1962.
Rome Adventure (1962) - From The Caesars To Mussolini Fresh off the boat, American Prudence (Suzanne Pleshette) with companions Albert (Hampton Fancher) and Roman Alberto (Rossano Brazzi), who has arranged lodgings, meeting the countess (Iphigenie Castiglione), then leading man Troy Donahue, as distracted Don, in Rome Adventure, 1962.
Birds, The (1963) - That Makes Three Times Melanie (Tippi Hedren) and Mitch (Rod Taylor) have just finished another impertinent chat on the hillside when, returning to the birthday party, the first all-out assault begins, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) helping save the kids, in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, 1963.
Shaggy D.A., The - Lightweight Wilby Daniels (Dean Jones) and wife (Suzanne Pleshette) suffer a campaign mishap, leading to the introduction of his opponent Slade (Keenan Wynn) and gangster Roschak (Vic Tayback) in Disney's The Shaggy D.A., 1976.

Trailer

Family

Eugene Pleshette
Father
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.
Geraldine Pleshette
Mother
Dancer. Performed under stage name Geraldine Rivers.

Companions

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

Bibliography

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".