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In Memoriam


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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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Sixties Fave Suzanne Pleshette

Suzanne Pleshette and Troy DonahueSuzanne Pleshette and Troy Donahue 

Friday, January 25--------While the Sundance Film Festival and the on-going drama surrounding the tragic death of Heath Ledger dominated this week's news, I wanted to note the passing of a personal fave. Suzanne Pleshette, the husky-voiced 1960s actress who later redefined the television sitcom wife in the 1970s on THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, died last Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 70 and had been battling lung cancer for the past few years.

A native New Yorker, Pleshette started her acting career on the stage, moving effortlessly between off Broadway and the lights of Broadway in the 1950s. She made her feature film debut in the 1958 Jerry Lewis comedy THE GEISHA BOY. But it was her second film, ROME ADVENTURE (1962), in which she starred opposite blond hearthrob Troy Donahue, that got her noticed in Hollywood. Her lowkey performances in a number of films that centered on budding female sexuality (either playing the virgin or the knowing good time girl) often transcended the rather thankless roles she had in bad (and badly dated) potboilers. Troy Donahue was a regular co-star, and she even married him, in a relationship that lasted less than a year.

For me, and legions of fans, her most striking movie role was a supporting one. She played a small-town teacher consumed with bitterness and jealousy, who eventually is pecked to death by an angry flock of birds in the Alfred Hitchcock classic THE BIRDS (1963). Her soulful performance brought a deep sense of regret and longing to the minor character, who dies mid-way through the film. While the film ostensibly starred icy blonde Tippi Hedren and stalwart hero Rod Taylor, it is Pleshette who anchors the story, and who walked away with the best reviews of her career. Her movie work was a mix of melodramas and mainstream comedies. In 1964, she played a flight attendant who survives an airplance crash in FATE IS THE HUNTER. In 1965's A RAGE TO LIVE, she played a sexually compulsive heiress. The 1969 comedy IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE BELGIUM, about a busload of unhappy American tourists, was one of her biggest hits. Her film career began to decline in the first half of the 1970s, while she became a staple actress in several Walt Disney films of the period, including THE SHAGGY D.A. (1976).

Her penchant for comedy was best exploited on television, where she was cast as the wise-cracking wife in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, which ran for six seasons from 1972 to 1978, and was a consistent ratings winner. The show, which presented the wife as an equal to her husband in every way, was groundbreaking and obviously influenced by the growing feminist mood in the country. For the role, she was nominated for the Emmy Award several times, although she never scored a win. The series has been in syndication for the past 30 years and the chemistry between Newhart and Pleshette continues to offer charming comedy nuggets to a new generation of fans. Recently, she won praise for her role as Megan Mulally's mother in the comedy hit series WILL AND GRACE, playing a boozy, outspoken and sexually free senior, who was apparently not that far from Pleshette's personal brassy style. While she was never a big star on the big screen, there are choice moments where she revealed the inner depths of her complex characters.......women who were caught between the traditional roles of wife, mother and lover and the soon-to-emerge independent feminist who could call her own shots. Throughout her career and life, she remained a truly individual presence.

Sandy Mandelberger, In Memoriam Director

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Mandelberger Sandy
(International Media Resources)

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IN MEMORIAM

Obituary Profiles of Entertainment Industry Figures And The Legacies They Leave Behind


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