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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Cloris Leachman

Hard to believe Cloris Leachman is 88 on April 30, 2014. The actress, best known as the comically passive-aggressive Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is a fine dramatic actress as well. In fact, I first took note of her in the Peter Bogdonovich film, The Last Picture Show, in which she was nothing less than brilliant. Portraying the high school gym teacher's wife who has an affair with his student (Timothy Bottoms), she won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role. She's also won five Emmys (one for The MTM Show) and a Golden Globe Award from the MTM spin-off tv series, Phyllis. In fact, she holds the record for most Emmys won by an actor (female or male) with an incredible total of nine!

Ms Leachman was a beauty pageant queen and a Miss Chicago, though born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. She is of Czech descent. She moved to NYC to study Method acting with Elia Kazan at Actor's Studio.

She had a successful stage career before assaying the role of Timmy's adoptive mom on TV's fourth season of Lassie. She left the show after that season and was replaced by June Lockhart, best remembered in the role. Jon Provost, who played Timmy, said Cloris was unhappy once she realized all she'd be doing on the show would be "baking cookies." It was all about Timmy and the dog, after all.

After a long string of appearances on tv shows, Ms Leachman moved on to movies, often as vamps, as in Kiss Me Deadly.

From 1953 to 1979, Leachman was married to Hollywood director/producer George Englund (whose mom happens to be Mabel Albertson, the actress who played Darren's mother on Bewitched). Apparently, the couple had an open relationship.

When Cloris was 82 and appeared on tv's Dancing with The Stars, she revealed in her autobiography this juicy tidbit about Joan Collins. According to UK's Express:

She writes in Cloris: The Autobiography, which has just been published in America: “As I would find out, Joan had eyes for George. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to begin the most difficult time of my life.”
Days later Cloris, who has five grown-up children with Englund, suffered a miscarriage. Bravely declaring the show must go on, she rejoined the cast of A Touch Of The Poet but was horrified when, just before going on stage on opening night, she saw the newspaper gossip column headline: “Joan Collins Should Get An Oscar For The Love Scene She Played With George Englund Last Night.”

Cloris writes in her book that three nights later Joan called at 4am and said: “George just left here. We see each other every day. I’m in love with him. What do you want to do about that?’

“'I don’t know,’ I said. 'I’m not sure what the choices are. Do you think you two can make a go of it?’ She replied: ‘Yes, I do. 
'I love him but he loves you.’ When I told George about the call he was angry Joan had made it.”
The affair, in the Fifties, did not break up Cloris’s marriage, which ended in 1978.

Joan later said she broke off the affair after she found out Englund had slept with Cloris during their romance.

Meanwhile, Cloris had affairs with Gene Hackman, Andy Williams and others during her marital life. And, of course, Collins was not Englund's only conquest. The Englunds were a very popular Hollywood couple it would seem!

In her memoir, Me and My Shadows, Judy Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, wrote that Ms. Leachman was, according to Wikipedia: 'the kind of mom I'd only seen on TV'. Knowing of the turmoil at the Garland home but never mentioning it, Leachman prepared meals for Judy's children and made them feel welcome whenever they needed a place to stay."

Besides her popularity on tv as Phyllis, Leachman prominently co-starred in three Mel Brooks motion picture features, most especially as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

A vegetarian and PETA member, Cloris Leachman posed in nothing but lettuce for a 2009 PETA ad and also a 2013 spay and neuter ad for the organization, photographed opening a condom wrapper with her teeth.

In 2010, she had a wonderful uncredited cameo opposite Betty White (her rival on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) in the theatrical film, You Again.

Happy Birthday, Cloris! And may you continue to entertain and have many more, just like Betty White.

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