Ruth Buzzi

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Ruth Buzzi
Ruth Buzzi.jpg
Ruth Buzzi, May 2008
Born Ruth Ann Buzzi
(1936-07-24) July 24, 1936 (age 78)
Westerly, Rhode Island, U.S.
Occupation Actress, comedienne
Years active 1962–present
Spouse(s) Kent Perkins (m. 1978)

Ruth Ann Buzzi (born July 24, 1936) is an American comedienne and actress of theatre, film, and television. She is especially known for her performances on the comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973.

Early life[edit]

Buzzi was born at Westerly Hospital, Westerly, Rhode Island, the daughter of Rena Pauline and Angelo Peter Buzzi, a nationally recognized stone sculptor.[1][2] She was raised in Wequetequock, Connecticut, in a rock house overlooking the ocean at Wequeteqouck Cove, where her father owned Buzzi Memorials, a business still operated by her older brother, Harold. Her father was born in Arzo, Switzerland, in the Italian-speaking canton of the Ticino, a few miles from the Italian border. He carved the marble eagles at Penn Station in New York designed by artist Adolph A. Weinman (who also designed the Standing Liberty Eagle half dollar for the U.S. Mint), the granite Leif Erikson memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, the animals seen in relief on the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and made thousands of tombstones. He was asked to work on the carving of the Presidents on Mount Rushmore but declined, out of a fear of heights. Her mother was born in the United States to immigrants from northern Italy.

Buzzi attended Stonington High School where she gained experience as head cheerleader performing before crowds at athletic events. At 17, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse for the Performing Arts and graduated with honors. She studied voice, dance, and acting, and took courses in cosmetology in case the acting career failed to attain success. Before graduation from college however, she was a working actress with a union card in musical and comedy revues. Her first job in show business was at the age of 19, traveling with singer Rudy Vallee in a live musical and comedy act during her summer break from college; it allowed her to graduate with a treasured union card with Actor's Equity Union. She moved to New York after graduation and was hired immediately for a lead role in an off-Broadway musical revue, the first of 19 in which she performed across the East Coast. Classmates at Pasadena Playhouse included legendary actors Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.

In musical and comedy revues from Provincetown, Massachusetts, to the Catskills of New York, to off-Broadway, she worked alongside other young, talented performers just beginning their careers at the time, including Barbra Streisand, Joan Rivers, Dom DeLuise, Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett.

Buzzi's first national exposure came when she teamed up with Dom DeLuise in a comical magic act in which he played an incompetent magician and Buzzi was his "sidekick" named "Shakuntala" who never spoke but always sported a wide grin. Audiences demanded more of the two and they played several major nighttime television variety shows including The Garry Moore Show, The Entertainers with Carol Burnett, and Your Show of Shows with Imogene Coca.

She was hired by Bob Fosse to perform with Fosse's then wife Gwen Verdon in the hit Broadway Musical Sweet Charity. It was during the run of Sweet Charity that she auditioned for and received a permanent place in the comedy series Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, which was the top rated show on NBC for more than five years.

Career[edit]

Before leaving New York for a career in Los Angeles as a television star, Buzzi played in a Bob Fosse classic Broadway show, Sweet Charity, with Gwen Verdon in the original cast; she had to leave the show in which she had several small roles, one of them "the Singing Fairy," to become a regular performer on The Steve Allen Show, on CBS. Between New York musical variety shows, Buzzi made numerous television commercials, some of which won national awards including the coveted Clio Award.

Buzzi's first national recognition on television came on The Garry Moore Show just after Carol Burnett was replaced by Dorothy Loudon on the series. Ruth Buzzi saw her first taste of national fame as "Shakuntala" the silent, bumbling magician's assistant to her comedy partner Dom DeLuise who played "Dominic the Great". They were an instant hit with the public.

Buzzi was a member of the regular repertory company on the CBS variety show The Entertainers (1964–1965). In 1966–1967, she was in the Broadway cast of the musical

In the late 1960s, she appeared in every episode of a comedy-variety series starring Steve Allen. Her character parts in the Allen sketches led her to be cast for NBC's new show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Ruth Buzzi was the only featured player to appear in every episode of Laugh-In including the initial pilot for the show and the Laugh-In television special. She was also featured as a semi-regular on the sitcom That Girl as Marlo Thomas's friend.

A versatile comedienne, Ruth Buzzi played everything from dowdy old women to tipsy drunks, to Southern belles to flashy hookers. Among her recurring characters on Laugh-In were Busy-Buzzi, Hollywood gossip columnist; Doris Swizzler, a cocktail-lounge habituée who always got riotously smashed with husband Leonard (Dick Martin); and one of the Burbank Airlines Stewardesses, teaming with Debbie Reynolds as two totally inconsiderate flight attendants.

Her most famous character is the dowdy spinster Gladys Ormphby, clad in drab brown with her bun hairdo covered by a visible hairnet knotted in the middle of her forehead. In most sketches, she used her lethal purse, with which she would flail away vigorously at anyone who incurred her wrath.

On Laugh-In, Gladys most often appeared as the unwilling object of the advances of Arte Johnson's "dirty old man" character Tyrone F. Horneigh. In a typical exchange, Tyrone accosts Gladys and asks, "Do you believe in the hereafter?" "Of course I do!", Gladys retorts defensively. Delighted, Tyrone shoots back: "Then you know what I'm here after!" NBC collectively called these two characters The Nitwits when they went to animation in the mid-1970s as part of the series Baggy Pants and the Nitwits. Buzzi and Johnson both voiced their respective roles in the cartoon.

Buzzi, as Gladys, was featured in most of the Dean Martin Roasts from the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas. Memorable shows included her intense comedic dialogue, ranting about notable roastees including Muhammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball, to name a few. In each case, Gladys Ormphby pugnaciously attacked the honoree with her flailing purse to the screams and howls of the Las Vegas audience.

Martin would also suffer Gladys's purse assaults for his remarks about her unappealing looks and poor romantic prospects. In one such exchange, Gladys accusingly questioned Martin about who had been chasing her around a hotel room in the wee hours; Martin's response ("The exterminator!") earned him a beating as he broke up laughing along with the audience. Gladys then declared to the audience that, when Martin and other men looked at her, only one thing came to their minds. Martin, still laughing, could barely get out the answer: "Rabies!" This earned him an even fiercer beating from Gladys.

Buzzi starred with Jim Nabors as the time-traveling androids Fi and Fum in The Lost Saucer produced by Sid and Marty Krofft which aired from September 11, 1975 – September 2, 1976 (16 episodes).

Buzzi also guested as Chloe, the usually never-seen but often mentioned wife of phone company worker Henry Beesmeyer on Alice.

Dean Martin's producer, Greg Garrison, obviously enjoyed Ruth Buzzi's work as a "comedy sketch artist" and hired her for his comedy specials starring Dom DeLuise.

Ruth Buzzi charted the single "You Oughta Hear The Song" in 1977. It reached #90 on Billboard's national Country Music survey.

In 1986, she voiced for the character Nose Marie in the Hanna-Barbera animated series Pound Puppies. She voiced "Mamma Bear" in Berenstain Bears, and did hundreds of guest voices for many other cartoon series. She is still seen frequently on Sesame Street in comedy sketch clips from her six years on that show, and is often heard as the voice of outlandish failed torch singer "Susie Kabloozy". She was a regular performer on Sesame Street for 6 years, during which time she was nominated for an Emmy Award for her work as "Ruthie". She also appeared on Lucille Ball's last (but short-lived) sitcom, Life with Lucy, as Mrs. Wilcox in the episode "Lucy Makes a Hit with John Ritter".

Buzzi was a guest star on many television series including Donny & Marie, The Flip Wilson Show, The Dean Martin Music and Comedy Hour, the Dean Martin Roasts, The Carol Burnett Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Monkees, Emergency!, and variety series hosted by Leslie Uggams and by Glen Campbell. She also appeared occasionally on game shows, and was a celebrity judge on The Gong Show.

Buzzi performed in numerous national television commercials, most notably for "Clorox 2", Liquid Swan soap, Clairol hair products, Ban roll-on deodorant, and Santa Anita Raceway, but probably most famous as the voice of "Granny Goodwitch" opposite the "Sugar Bear" in the animated commercials for Sugar Crisp cereal.

Buzzi appeared in the "Weird Al" Yankovic video "Gump" and similarly appeared in other music videos with the rock groups B-52's and The Presidents of the United States of America. She also appeared for seven years as a regular performer on Sesame Street (playing shopkeeper Ruthie, which also allowed her to revive her Gladys Ormphby character, and also voiced Susie Kabloozie), Saved by the Bell (playing Screech Powers's wacky mother as an Elvis fanatic), The Muppet Show, You Can't Do That on Television (during its CTV-produced incarnation Whatever Turns You On), and numerous other television shows. She was also a voice actress for The Smurfs, The Angry Beavers and Mo Willems' Sheep in the Big City. Buzzi also played the role of the eccentric Nurse Kravitz on NBC's daytime soap Passions. In 2006 and 2007, she made guest appearances on the children's TV series Come on Over. Ruth Buzzi recreated her own voice for the Gladys Ormphby character in its cartoon series called Baggy Pants and the Nitwits with Artie Johnson bringing his character to life on the show, as well.

Buzzi had a successful nightclub act all across the United States including in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel and at the MGM Grand. She only performed the act for one year because she did not like the smell of cigarette smoke and disliked traveling all the time; her shows were all sold out and she was offered an extended stay in Las Vegas but opted out.

Buzzi has had featured roles in more than 20 motion pictures including Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, Freaky Friday, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Villain, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and a number of westerns for the European market known as the Lucky Luke series in which she plays the mother of the Dalton Gang and other roles.

Awards[edit]

Buzzi received 5 Emmy Award nominations and won the coveted Golden Globe Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1973 for her work on Laugh-In.

Buzzi was inducted in 2002 into the Television Hall of Fame (presented by the National Broadcasters Association, which bestowed the honor to Buzzi as well as the producers, director and cast of the top rated television show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In).

Buzzi was in 1971 inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

Buzzi received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Pasadena Playhouse of the Performing Arts.

Five times, Buzzi was nominated by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy Awards in several categories from comedy and variety to Best Performer in a Children's Television Program; she was recognized not only for making people laugh, but for her versatility as an actress; she is remembered for a guest starring dramatic role on Medical Center with Greg Evigan in which she played the wife of a fatally ill man played by Don Rickles.

Buzzi received a Clio Award for Best Spokesperson in a television commercial for her series of Clorox-2 commercials, and was among the first of only a few Caucasian women to ever win an NAACP Image Award. Ruth Buzzi guest starred as a music and comedy performer on dozens of prime time television specials with colleagues including Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wayne Newton, Anne Murray, Rolf Harris, Dom DeLuise, Tony Orlando and was in a show created for Debbie Reynolds called Aloha Paradise, to name just a few. She appeared 8 times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and has made more than 200 other television guest appearances.

In 2008 Ruth Buzzi was named a "Distinguished Woman of Northwood" by the Board of Regents of Northwood University.

Ruth Buzzi graduated with honors from the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California and was one of the first recipients of the Pasadena Playhouse Alumni Achievement Award along with her former classmates Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman.

Buzzi was a presenter at the 2009 Emmy Awards along with several members of her debut series, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, presenting the Emmy trophy to Jon Stewart for his work on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Personal life[edit]

Buzzi lives with her husband (Kent Perkins on a 600 acre cattle and horse ranch near Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas. Her hobby is oil painting.

Buzzi has never offered her oil paintings for sale to the public, but has donated original oil paintings to charity, where they have sold for more than $6,000.

She supports numerous children's charities including Make a Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, The Thalians, St. Jude's Hospital, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Buzzi is active in fundraising for the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch[3] in Medina, Texas and other animal causes.

Buzzi and her husband are avid automobile collectors, with some of their cars having been on loan to and/on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California including a 1957 Chevrolet convertible that was exhibited as part of the display honoring the cars of Steve McQueen.

Previously, the Petersen Automotive Museum displayed Buzzi's 1961 Rolls-Royce convertible in an exhibit called "Million Dollar Cars".[4] The museum has also featured a 1965 Chrysler Imperial convertible previously owned by Katharine Hepburn. The Hepburn car was donated to the museum by Kent and Ruth Buzzi Perkins in 2001 and remains there for special exhibition. Buzzi and her husband won first place in their category with their 1961 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II drophead coupe at the Concours d'Elegance national championship in Amelia Island, Florida. That same vehicle won first place in the Los Angeles Rolls Royce Owners Club's "most elegant car" competition. Buzzi and her husband currently collect post-war English vehicles including Rolls-Royce and Jaguar, but their collection also holds several American muscle cars. Some of her vehicles have been in television commercials, featured in parades, and her blue Bentley convertible was featured on the cover of Vogue Magazine with Jessica Simpson behind the wheel.

She is a charter member of the Pasadena Playhouse Alumni Association.[5]

Buzzi was mentioned in the House of Pain song, "I'm A Swing It".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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