January 20, 2008

GOOD NIGHT, EMILY:

Suzanne Pleshette, sexy star of 'Bob Newhart Show,' dies at 70 (Dennis McLellan, 1/20/08, Los Angeles Times)

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," has died. She was 70. [...]

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 creatorsof the upcoming Newhart show.

"Suzanne started talking, and I looked at Lorenzo and Lorenzo looked at me," Davis told TV Guide. "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. 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."

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."

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."

"I don't tangle," Newhart said, "with any lady who didn't give Johnny a chance to exercise his mouth -- even to sneer -- for 10 whole minutes."

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.


That last made her immortal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 20, 2008 4:10 PM
Comments

I've been collecting the original Newhart show on DVD (which aired before my time). Pleshette is lovely, and I have a new appreciation for Newhart's comedic genius.

Posted by: Shelton at January 20, 2008 4:47 PM

The final episode of Newhart is the the best show finale ever (at least the last scene).

Posted by: The Other Brother at January 20, 2008 7:29 PM

That last scene tied both sitcoms together perfectly.

Posted by: Bartman at January 21, 2008 9:53 AM
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