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Actress Suzanne Pleshette


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Actress Suzanne Pleshette

by Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer


Actress Suzanne Pleshette

LOS ANGELES, California -- Suzanne Pleshette, the dark-haired, smoky-voiced actress who played Bob Newhart's confident and sexy wife, Emily Hartley, for six years on the popular 1970s sitcom, "The Bob Newhart Show," died Saturday, January 19 of respiratory failure. She was 70.

The widow of comic actor Tom Poston, Pleshette died Saturday evening at her Los Angeles home, Robert Finkelstein, an entertainment lawyer and family friend, told the Associated Press.Pleshette underwent chemotherapy in 2006 for lung cancer.

A stage-trained New York actress who made her movie debut in the 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy, "The Geisha Boy," Pleshette appeared in such films as "The Birds," "Nevada Smith," "Youngblood Hawke," "A Rage to Live," "Fate Is the Hunter" and the 1964 western, "A Distant Trumpet."


Suzanne Pleshette (left) as Annie Sullivan

embraces Patty Duke (right) as Helen Keller

from Broadway's 'The Miracle Worker'

She appeared with Troy Donahue, to whom she was married for eight months in 1964, in the 1962 romantic drama, "Rome Adventure" On Broadway in 1961, Pleshette replaced Anne Bancroft in the role of Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker," opposite Patty Duke as Helen Keller.

But she had a flair for comedy. Among her screen credits are "40 Pounds of Trouble," "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," "Support Your Local Gunfighter," "The Shaggy D.A.," "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin," "The Ugly Dachshund" and "Blackbeard's Ghost."

Pleshette, however, is best remembered for playing what New York Times critic Frank Rich once described as "the sensible yet woolly wife" on "The Bob Newhart Show," which ran from 1972 to 1978. Her role as Emily earned her two Emmy nominations.


Tippi Hendren and Suzanne Pleshette in 'The Birds'

Pleshette retired from acting after marrying her second husband, wealthy businessman Tom Gallagher, in 1968. She told TV Guide in 1972 that after she'd been hanging around the house for six months, "my loving husband said, 'You're getting to be awfully boring. Go back to work.'"

After trying to figure out how she could return to work without having to get up at 5 a.m. or go out of town for weeks on movie locations, she recalled, "I said to myself, 'What can you do best?' 'Talk,' I said. 'So what better than the talk shows on TV?' I said. 'I picked up the phone and asked my agent to try to book me with Johnny Carson.'"

She made a couple of dozen appearances on the Carson show over the next few years, including one with fellow guest Newhart -- a show seen by writers David Davis and Lorenzo Music, the creators of the upcoming "Bob Newhart Show."


Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette as Bob and Emily

Hartley in 'The Bob Newhart Show'

"Suzanne started talking, and I looked at Lorenzo and Lorenzo looked at me," Davis told TV Guide in an interview. "There she was, just what we were looking for. She was revealing her own frailties, talking freely about being over 30. She was bubble-headed but smart, loving toward her husband but relentless about his imperfections."

Davis continued, "We were trying to get away from the standard TV wife, and we knew that whoever we picked would have to be offbeat enough and strong enough to carry the show along with Newhart. We didn't dream Suzanne would accept the part."

Pleshette told the magazine that "Bob is just like my husband, Tommy, letting me go bumbling and stumbling through life. And the way it's written, the part is me. There's the stream of non sequiturs by which I live. There are fights. I'm allowed to be demonstrative. But the core of the marriage is good."


Suzanne Pleshette and Jerry Lewis in 'The Geisha Boy'

Off-camera, Pleshette was known for being what an Orlando Sentinel reporter once described as "an earthy dame, an Auntie Mame who isn't afraid to tell a dirty story." Or, as TV Guide put it in 1972: "Her conversations -- mostly meandering monologues -- are sprinkled with aphorisms, anecdotes, salty opinions and X-rated expletives."

She enjoyed talking so much that during the making of "The Geisha Boy," Lewis took to calling her "Big Mouth." Pleshette explained how she got the role: "Someone told Lewis about me. He takes great chances on talent. I went in for an interview. He purposely provoked me, because that's what he wanted on the screen. He said, 'You've sure got a big mouth; that big mouth just got you in a picture.'"

Newhart, according to the TV Guide article, "was finding himself outtalked by Suzanne on the set about 12 to 1 but professed to be unperturbed by the phenomenon." Newhart said. "I don't tangle with any lady who didn't give Johnny a chance to exercise his mouth -- even to sneer -- for 10 whole minutes."


Actress Suzanne Pleshette in 1963

Although Newhart got a new TV wife, played by Mary Frann, for his 1982-90 situation comedy, "Newhart," Pleshette had the last laugh -- making a memorable surprise guest appearance as Newhart's previous TV wife, Emily, at the end of the series' final episode. In it, Dick Loudon, the Vermont innkeeper Newhart played on "Newhart," is knocked out by a stray golf ball.

Then, the show cuts to a darkened bedroom as he wakes up and turns on the light to reveal Chicago psychologist Bob Hartley's bedroom from "The Bob Newhart Show." The Vermont-set "Newhart" and its colorful characters, it turns out, had only been a dream, and Pleshette's Emily tells Bob he should watch what he eats before going to bed.

In a 1990 interview with "CBS This Morning," Pleshette recalled that when the "Newhart" studio audience first saw the familiar bedroom set from the old series, she heard gasps.


Bob Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette in 2002

"And then they heard this mumble under the covers, and nobody does my octave, you know," she recalled. "And I think they suspected it might be me, but when that dark hair came up from under the covers, they stood and screamed."

For her and Newhart "to be together again with the old rhythms, looking into each other's eyes, was just wonderful," she said. And, she said, it was "very touching and so dear" that the studio audience "remembered us with such affection."

An only child, Pleshette was born January 31, 1937, in the Brooklyn Heights section of New York City. Her mother, Gloria Kaplan Pleshette, had been a dancer, and her father, Eugene Pleshette, was the manager of the New York and Brooklyn Paramount theaters during their big-band days.


Actress Suzanne Pleshette

After attending the New York High School of the Performing Arts -- "I found myself there," Pleshette later said -- she spent a semester at Syracuse University and a semester at Finch College before moving on to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and acting teacher Sanford Meisner.

Television was the medium that she received her greatest recognition. She was nominated for an Emmy Award four times, first in 1962 for a guest performance in "Dr. Kildare," twice for "The Bob Newhart Show" in 1977 and 1978. In 1991, she was nominated for playing the title role in the television movie, "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean."

Although there were repeated efforts, Pleshette never starred in a hit series again but she continued to appear in numerous television movies and as a guest in various popular television series into the 21st century. She starred in the short-lived sitcoms, "Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs" in 1984 and "The Boys Are Back" from 1994-95.


Suzanne Pleshette with the Cast of 'Good Morning, Miami'

Pleshette also starred in the the dramatic series, "Bridges to Cross" in 1986 and "Nightingales" in 1989. More recently, she played the lusty grandmother in the sitcom, "Good Morning, Miami" from 2002-03. Her last role was as Megan Mullally's estranged mother in several episodes of NBC's "Will & Grace" from 2002-04.

Pleshette was married to Gallagher from 1968 until his death in 2000. She first met -- and dated -- Poston when they appeared together in the 1959 Broadway comedy, "Golden Fleecing." They were both dealing with the deaths of their spouses in 2000 when they got back together. They were married the next year.

"They are a romantic duo," actor Tim Conway, a friend of Poston's, told People Magazine in 2001. "It's almost embarrassing. You have to put cold water on them." Poston died in April at age 85 after a brief illness. Details on survivors were not immediately available.

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I just wanted to say that I thought she was really a neat lady. I remember watching her as a kid on The Bob Newhart show. I always enjoyed her in everything I saw her in and thought she was a class act.

Lung cancer is a rotten way to go. At least now she is free from pain and sickness, and is at peace.

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The Many Loves of Suzanne Pleshette

First Husband Actor Troy Donahue


Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue in scenes from the film, 'Rome Adventure'


Suzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue on their Wedding Day, January 4, 1964. They divorced eight months

later on September 8, 1964

Second Husband Businessman Tom Gallagher


Tom Gallagher and Suzanne Pleshette were

married in 1968

Third Husband Actor/Comedian Tom Poston


Tom Poston and Suzanne Pleshette were married on May 11, 2001

Television Series of Suzanne Pleshette

"The Single Guy"


Peter Boyle and Suzanne Pleshette (seated

L-R) with Jonathan Silverman (standing top)

in the 1995 comedy, 'The Single Guy'

"The Boys Are Back"


Suzanne Pleshette and Hal Linden (L-R) as

Jackie and Fred Hansen in the 1994-95 series,

'The Boys Are Back'

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  • 10 months later...

My all-time favorite actress ever, classy, intelligent, bawdy & a real broad in the utmost positive sense of the word, multi-talented, and simp[ly down-to-earth beauty & brains, what more can one say abolut SUZANNE PLESHETTE, she was one of a kind and a uniquely gifted talent, prolific bpody of work in televisionand memorable stage & film performances makes this lady one to remember. Growing up in the 1950's & 60's, TV was into real live dramas etc; wonderful shows (sorely miss them too!!!); such as Playhouse 90; Naked City, Wagon Train, One Step Beyond, Route 66, The FBI, The Fugitive, The Invaders only to name a few Ms. Pleshette guest starred in - rent some of her work you will not regret it. One of the Best!

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  • 7 years later...

Love her. I was just watching The Bob Newhart Show on late night TV. She was the best. I always envied her looks , her acting, that voice..... she was the total package. The best part was that everyone said she was nice and a wonderful person. I know it's years after her death, but she is still missed. Just sorry she smoked and got  cancer.

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