Sunday, January 20, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette Passes On

Beautiful, dark haired actress Suzanne Pleshette, perhaps best known as Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show, died yesterday from lung cancer. She was 70 years old.

Pleshette was born in New York City on January 31, 1937. Given her family it was perhaps inevitable that she would go into show business. Her father managed both the New York Paramount and Brooklyn Paramount theatres during the Swing Era. Her mother had been a dancer. Pleshette attended the New York High School of the Performing Arts. She spent a semester each at Syracuse University and Finch College before attending the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Pleshette first appeared on Broadway in 1957 in the play Compulsion. Initially she was cast in a bit part, although she eventually replaced Ina Balin in the part of Ruth Goldberg. That same year she made her first appearance on television, in a guest appearance on The Harbourmaster.

On the big screen Suzanne Pleshette's first big break came with the movie The Geisha Boy, in which she was cast as the love interest. In the Sixties her most notable film roles were perhaps that of school teacher Annie Hayworth in The Birds and Jeanne Green in Youngblood Hawke. She would also appear in the films 40 Pounds of Trouble, Fate is the Hunter, The Ugly Dachshund, Nevada Smith, and If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, among others. Her career in the Seventies was primarily spent in television, but she did appear in the movies Support Your Local Gunfighter, The Shaggy D.A., and Hot Stuff during that decade.

While Pleshette started out as a stage actress and appeared in several notable films, the majority of her work would be on the small screen. In the late Fifties she guest starred on such shows as Have Gun--Will Travel, Playhouse 90, and Black Saddle. In the Sixties she made many guest appearances on television, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Naked City, Route 66, The Wild Wild West, The Fugitive, and The Invaders. The Seventies saw her guest star in such shows as Love, American Style, Columbo, and Bonanza. The Seventies would also bring Pleshette her best known role, that of Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show. Sardonic and sexy, it was painfully obvious that Emily was a lot brighter than her husband, Dr. Robert Hartley (Bob Newhart).

Pleshette spent much of the Eighties playing in TV movies ranging from The Star Maker to A Stranger Waits. She had the starring role in the short lived series Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs in 1984. In the Nineties she made what may be her most famous guest appearance, playing Emily Hartley in the final episode of Newhart. In the final scene of that show, it is revealed that the whole series had been dreamed by Dr. Robert Hartley (Bob Newhart's character on The Bob Newhart Show). Pleshette would also have recurring roles on the sitcoms Good Morning, Miami, 8 Simple Rules... for Dating My Teenage Daughter, and Will and Grace.

Pleshette had started her career on stage and she did return to it several times. She played Leah in The Cold and the Warm on Broadway in 1959 and Julie in The Golden Fleecing that same year. She replaced Anne Bancroft in the role of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker on Broadway. In 1982 she appeared in the play Special Occasions.

I must confess that I have had a huge crush on Suzanne Pleshette nearly my whole life, ever since I first saw her in The Ugly Dachshund. It wasn't simply that she was incredibly beautiful, although she was her entire life. It wasn't even that she was blessed with a splendid figure, although she was. For me the appeal of Suzanne Pleshette rests in the fact that in almost all of the roles she played, she brought an intelligence and vivaciousness to the characters that few other actresses ever have. And she was indubitably versatile. She could play glamorous, yet down to earth Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show, giving one of television's all time great performances. Yet at the same time she could play tomboy Patience Barton in Support Your Local Gunfighter with equal aplomb. The one thing that most of Pleshette's roles had in common was that they were all intelligent, strong willed women who did not need to depend upon a man. Suzanne Pleshette was already ahead of most starlets in terms of talent. Her choice of roles and the way she played them put her far ahead of most starlets in terms of sex appeal as well. It is for those reasons that she will be remembered.


d. chedwick bryant said...

She was fantastic-- Pleshette and Ann Bancroft were great actresses. Both were smart.
and both wickedly funny whenever they were on Chat shows.

Pleshette was funny and told great stories.

Aaron said...

I know I has been said over and over, but when I saw that bedroom and then Bob's head and then Suzanne rolled over...and then that voice...that velvet coal sound ....I am still laughing.

The best keep going...thank goodness we have moments like that on and in our memories.

Mercurie said...

I always thought the ending of Newhart was one of the greatest finales for a show ever. And, as usual, Suzanne played it perfectly.