Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman
Cloris Leachman

Leachman at the June 2009 premiere for The Proposal
Born April 30, 1926 (1926-04-30) (age 85)
Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.
Occupation Actress, comedienne
Years active 1947–present
Spouse George Englund
(m. 1953–79; 5 children)

Cloris Leachman (born April 30, 1926) is an American actress of stage, film and television. She has won eight Primetime Emmy Awards—more than any other performer—and one Daytime Emmy Award. She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the 1971 film The Last Picture Show.

Leachman's longest running role was the nosy, self-centered and manipulative landlady Phyllis Lindstrom on the 1970s TV series Mary Tyler Moore, and later on the spinoff series, Phyllis. She also appeared in three Mel Brooks films, including Young Frankenstein.

She had a regular role on the last two seasons of The Facts of Life portraying the character Beverly Ann Stickle. In recent years, she had a recurring role as Lois' mother Ida Gorski on Malcolm in the Middle. She also starred in the roast of Bob Saget in 2008.

Leachman was a contestant on Season 7 (2008) of Dancing with the Stars, paired with Corky Ballas. At the age of 82, she was the oldest contestant to dance on the series.[1]

Leachman was the grand marshal for the 2009 New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California.[2] She presided over the 120th parade, the theme being "Hats Off to Entertainment", and the 95th Rose Bowl game.

Leachman plays a supporting role in Raising Hope, a sitcom that premiered in the fall of 2010 on Fox. She and Tara Reid star in The Fields, which is set for release in 2011.[3]

On May 15, 2011, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Leachman has joined the cast of Gambit, a remake of a 1966 film. It stars Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz and is currently filming in London.


Early life

Leachman was born in Des Moines, Iowa. She is the eldest of three daughters of Cloris (née Wallace) and Berkeley Claiborne "Buck" Leachman, who worked at the family-owned Leachman Lumber Company.[4][5][6][7] Her sister, Claiborne Cary (1932–2010), was also an actress.[8] Leachman's maternal grandmother was Bohemian.[9]

Leachman majored in drama at Illinois State University and Northwestern University, where she was a member of Gamma Phi Beta and a classmate of future comic actor Paul Lynde. Leachman began appearing on television and in films shortly after competing in Miss America as Miss Chicago 1946. Before that she was very active at the Des Moines Playhouse, starring in many productions.


Early career

After winning a scholarship in the beauty pageant, Leachman studied acting in New York City at the Actors Studio with Elia Kazan. It was there that she met the first love of her life, Andrew Morgan. Leachman was a replacement for character Nellie Forbush during the original run of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. A few years later, she appeared in the Broadway-bound production of William Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba, but left the show before it reached Broadway when Katharine Hepburn asked her to co-star in a production of William Shakespeare's As You Like It.[10]

Leachman appeared in many live television broadcasts in the 1950s, including such programs as Suspense and Studio One. She was also one of the Raisonette Girls in the 1960s. She made her feature film debut as an extra in the 1947 film Carnegie Hall, but had her first real role in Robert Aldrich's film noir classic Kiss Me Deadly,[11] released in 1955. Leachman was several months pregnant during the filming, and appears in one scene running down a darkened highway wearing only a trenchcoat. A year later she appeared opposite Paul Newman and Lee Marvin in The Rack (1956). She appeared with Newman again, in a brief role as a prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

She continued to work mainly in television, with appearances in Rawhide and in The Twilight Zone episode It's a Good Life. During this period, Leachman notably appeared on the popular anthology Alfred Hitchcock Presents in an engaging episode entitled "Premonition" opposite John Forsythe. Later in the decade, Leachman appeared as Ruth Martin, Timmy's adoptive mom, in the last half of season four (1957) of Lassie. Jon Provost ("Timmy Martin") said, "Cloris did not feel particularly challenged by the role. Basically, when she realized that all she'd be doing was baking cookies, she wanted out."[12] She was replaced by June Lockhart in 1958. In 1959, she appeared in an episode of One Step Beyond titled "The Dark Room", where she portrayed an American photographer living in Paris. In 1960 she played Marilyn Parker, the roommate of Janice Rule's character, Elena Nardos, in the Checkmate episode The Mask of Vengeance.

Recognition and acclaim

Leachman has won numerous awards during her lengthy career. She won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The Last Picture Show (1971), based on the bestselling book by Larry McMurtry. She played the high school gym teacher's wife, with whom Timothy Bottoms' character has an affair. Director Peter Bogdanovich had predicted to Leachman during production that she would win an Academy Award for her performance. The part was originally offered to Ellen Burstyn, who wanted another role in the film.[13]

Leachman has also won a record-setting eight primetime and one daytime Emmy Awards and been nominated more than 20 times for her work in television over the years, most notably as the character of neighbor/landlady/nosy friend Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The character was a recurring character on the program for five years and was subsequently featured in a spinoff series, Phyllis (1975–1977), for which Leachman garnered a Golden Globe award. The series ran for two seasons. Its cancellation was partly due to the deaths of three regular or recurring cast members during its brief run: Barbara Colby, Judith Lowry and Burt Mustin.

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom, 1974.

In 1977, she guest starred on The Muppet Show, episode 2.24 (48th episode). In 1978, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. In 1987 she hosted the VHS releases of Schoolhouse Rock.[14] In 1986, Leachman returned to television, replacing Charlotte Rae's character Edna Garrett as the den mother on The Facts of Life. Leachman's role, as Edna's sister, Beverly Ann Stickle, could not save the long-running series, and it was canceled two years later.

She has voice-acted in numerous animated films, including My Little Pony: The Movie as the evil witch mother from the Volcano of Gloom, The Iron Giant, and most notably as the voice of the cantankerous sky pirate Dola in Hayao Miyazaki's 1986 feature Castle in the Sky. Dubbed by Disney in 1998, Leachman's performance in this film received nearly unanimous praise. Leachman played embittered, greedy, Slavic Canadian “Grandma Ida” on the Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, for which she won two Emmy Awards, both for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (once in 2002, then again in 2006). She was nominated for playing that same character for six consecutive years.

Later television credits include the successful Lifetime Television miniseries Beach Girls with Rob Lowe and Julia Ormond. Leachman was nominated for a SAG Award for her role as the wine-soaked, former jazz singer and grandmother Evelyn in the Sony feature Spanglish opposite Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni. She had replaced an ailing Anne Bancroft in the role. The film reunited her with her The Mary Tyler Moore Show writer-producer-director James L. Brooks. That same year she appeared with Sandler again, in the remake of The Longest Yard. She also appeared in Kurt Russell comedy Sky High as the school nurse with X-ray vision. In 2005, she guest starred as Charlie Harper's neighbor Norma on Two and a Half Men.

In 2006, Leachman's performance alongside Sir Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening in the HBO special Mrs. Harris earned her an Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or TV movie as well as an SAG Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries. On May 14, 2006, she was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Drake University.[citation needed]

In 2011, Leachman was ranked #23 on the TV Guide Network special, Funniest Women on TV.[15]

Mel Brooks films

Leachman has appeared in three Mel Brooks films. She played Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein (1974), in which the mere mention of her character's name elicits the loud neighing of horses (an homage to a cinematic villain stereotype).[16] She also appeared in High Anxiety (1977) as the demented villainess, psychiatric nurse Charlotte Diesel, and as Madame Defarge in the segment of History of the World: Part I (1981) which parodied Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

She auditioned for a chance to revive her role from Young Frankenstein in the 2007 Broadway production opposite Megan Mullally (replacing formerly cast Kristin Chenoweth) and Roger Bart. However, Andrea Martin was cast in the role. Mel Brooks was quoted as saying that Leachman, at 81, was too old for the role. "We don't want her to die on stage", he told columnist Army Archerd, at which Leachman took umbrage.[17] However, due to Leachman's success on Dancing with the Stars, Brooks reportedly asked her to reprise her role as Frau Blücher in the Broadway production of Young Frankenstein after Beth Leavel, who had succeeded Martin.[18][19] The Broadway production closed before this could be realized.

Dancing With the Stars

She was a contestant on Season 7 of Dancing With The Stars, and was paired with Corky Ballas, the oldest of the professionals. She is the oldest person to compete on the show to date.

Personal life

From 1953 to 1979, Leachman was married to Hollywood impresario George Englund. Leachman's former mother-in-law was character actress Mabel Albertson, best known for playing Samantha Stevens's bewildered mother-in-law on Bewitched. The marriage produced five children: Bryan (died 1986), Morgan, Adam, Dinah and George Englund, Jr. Some of them are in show business. Her son Morgan played Dylan on Guiding Light throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.

Leachman's son Bryan died from a drug overdose on February 25, 1986.[20] Some reports state that it was an overdose of ulcer medication, while others, such as in the Lifetime Television program Intimate Portrait: Cloris Leachman (in which Leachman participated), state that it was from cocaine.[21][22] In an interview by Cal Fussman in Esquire, Jan. 2009, Leachman stated, “I've been so relieved and so grateful to not have a god to believe in.”[23] She called herself an agnostic in an interview with Grandparents magazine.[24]

The Englunds were Bel Air neighbors of Judy Garland and Sid Luft, and of their children, Lorna and Joey Luft, during the early 1960s. Lorna Luft states in her memoir Me and My Shadows that Leachman was "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.

Leachman was also a friend of Marlon Brando, whom she met while studying under Elia Kazan in the 1950s. She introduced him to her husband, who became close to Brando as well, directing him in The Ugly American and writing a memoir about their friendship called Marlon Brando: The Way It's Never Been Done Before (2005).[25]

In a parody of the famous Demi Moore Vanity Fair magazine cover photo, Leachman posed "au naturel" on the cover of Alternative Medicine Digest (issue 15, 1997) body-painted with images of fruit. A vegetarian, Leachman also posed clad only in lettuce for a 2009 PETA advertisement.[26]

Leachman's autobiography Cloris: My Autobiography[27] was published in March 2009. She wrote the bestselling book with her former husband, George Englund.


Year Title Role Notes
1947 Carnegie Hall Dancing Nightclub Patron (uncredited)
1955 Kiss Me Deadly Christina Bailey
1956 The Rack Caroline
1962 The Chapman Report Miss Selby
1969 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Agnes
1970 WUSA Philomene
The People Next Door Tina Hoffman
Lovers and Other Strangers Bernice Henderson
1971 The Steagle Rita Weiss
The Last Picture Show Ruth Popper Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
1972 Charley and the Angel Nettie Appleby Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Dillinger Anna Sage
Happy Mother's Day, Love George Ronda
1974 Daisy Miller Mrs. Ezra Miller
Young Frankenstein Frau Blücher Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1975 Crazy Mama Melba
1977 The Mouse and His Child Euterpe (voice)
High Anxiety Nurse Diesel
1979 The North Avenue Irregulars
The Muppet Movie Lord's Secretary
Scavenger Hunt' Mildred Carruthers
1980 Herbie Goes Bananas Aunt Louise
Foolin' Around Samantha
1981 Yesterday Mrs.Kramer Nominated - Genie Award for Best Performance by a Foreign Actress
History of the World, Part I Madame Defarge
1986 My Little Pony: The Movie Hydia (voice)
Castle in the Sky Dola (voice in 2003 English-dubbed version)
1987 Hansel and Gretel Griselda
Walk Like a Man Margaret Shand
1988 Going to the Chapel Mrs. Haldane
1989 Prancer Mrs. McFarland
1990 Texasville Ruth Popper
1991 Love Hurts Ruth Weaver
The Giant of Thunder Mountain Narrator/The Elder Amy
Picture This: The Times of Peter Bogdanovich in Archer City, Texas (documentary)
1993 Double, Double, Toil and Trouble Aunt Agatha/Aunt Sofia TV Movie
My Boyfriend's Back Maggie The Zombie Expert
The Beverly Hillbillies Granny
Mrs. Doubtfire Cleo
1994 A Troll in Central Park Gnorga (voice)
1995 Nobody's Girls: Five Women of the West (documentary)
Now and Then Grandma Albertson
1996 Beavis and Butt-head Do America Old Woman on Plane and Bus (voice)
1997 Never Too Late Olive
1999 Gen¹³ (1999) Helga (voice) (unreleased)
The Iron Giant Mrs. Tensedge (voice)
Music of the Heart Assunta Guaspari
2000 Hanging Up Pat Mozell
2001 The Amati Girls Dolly Amati
2002 Manna from Heaven Helen
2003 Alex & Emma Grandmother
Bad Santa Grandma (uncredited)
2004 Spanglish Evelyn Wright Nominated - Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture
Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
2005 Buzz (documentary)
The Longest Yard Lynette
Sky High Nurse Spex
The Californians Eileen Boatwright
2006 Scary Movie 4 Mrs. Norris
Beerfest Great Gam Gam
2007 Lake Placid 2 Sadie Bickerman (TV movie)
Love Takes Wing Hattie Clarence (TV movie)
2008 The Women Maggie
2009 American Cowslip Sandy
Ponyo Noriko (voice)
Inglourious Basterds (scenes cut)
New York, I Love You Mitzie (segment "Joshua Marston")
2010 Expecting Mary Annie
You Again Helen (uncredited)
2011 The Fields
2011 Lemonade Mouth Mrs. Anne Bomley
DVD Adventures in Time 1 2 & 3 Donny

Short Subjects:

  • My Strange Uncle (1981)

Television work

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