Today is the birthday of the divine Cloris Leachman (b. 1926). Equally adept at comedy or drama, capable of grace and loveliness on the one hand (see above) or comical ugliness (as in her performances in Mel Brooks’ movies) on the other, her career, which began in the 1940s, continues to this day. She pops up in surprising places. Before she gained prominence in the films of Peter Bogdonavich, for example, you could see her in the 1956 Mike Hammer noir classic Kiss Me Deadly, and as a whore in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
In the 70s she was best known to most Americans as the buttinsky, annoying landlady and friend Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. After five years on the show (1970-1975), Leachman followed in Valerie Harper’s footsteps by getting her own spin-off series, Phyllis. In the show, Phyllis, now widowed after the death of her always off-camera husband Lars, moves to San Francisco to live with her in-laws. (The father-in-law was one of my favorite character actors Henry Jones. I’ve been known to channel his distinctive vocal mannerisms from time to time). Unfortunately, though Harper’s show Rhoda managed to last five seasons, Phyllis was able to hang in there for only two. A shame, because I really loved it.
My favorite part was the theme song, one of the best and funniest in all television history. If you hang in ’til the end you’ll see why I say that.