Suzanne Pleshette

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Suzanne Pleshette
Publicity photo of Pleshette from the television program The Contenders c. 1963
Born(1937-01-31)January 31, 1937
New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 19, 2008(2008-01-19) (aged 70)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City
Alma materFinch College
Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre
Years active1958–2004
Known forThe Bob Newhart Show
Rome Adventure
The Birds
Spirited Away
  • (m. 1964; div. 1964)
  • Tommy Gallagher
    (m. 1968; died 2000)
  • (m. 2001; died 2007)
RelativesJohn Pleshette (cousin)

Suzanne Pleshette (January 31, 1937 – January 19, 2008) was an American theatre, film, television, and voice actress.[1] Pleshette started her career in the theatre and began appearing in films in the late 1950s and later appeared in prominent films such as Rome Adventure (1962), Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), and Spirited Away (2001). She later appeared in various television productions, often in guest roles, and played Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show from 1972 until 1978, receiving several Emmy Award nominations for her work.

Early life[edit]

Pleshette was born on January 31, 1937, in the New York City neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights, to Geraldine (née Kaplan)[1] and Eugene Pleshette. Her parents were Jewish, the children of emigrants from Russia and Austria-Hungary.[2] Her mother was a dancer and artist who performed under the stage name Geraldine Rivers. Her father was a stage manager of the Paramount Theater in Manhattan and of the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn,[3][4] and later, a network executive.[5][6] She graduated from Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts and attended Syracuse University for one semester, then transferred to Finch College.[1] She later graduated from the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in Manhattan and was under the tutelage of acting teacher Sanford Meisner.[7][8][9][10][11]

Acting career[edit]


Pleshette in 1969

The Boston Globe described her appearance and demeanor as sardonic and her voice as sultry.[12] She began her career at age 20 as a stage actress. She made her Broadway debut in Meyer Levin's 1957 play Compulsion, adapted from his novel inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case.

The following year, she performed in the debut of The Cold Wind and the Warm by S. N. Behrman at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, directed by Harold Clurman and produced by Robert Whitehead.[13] In 1959, she was featured in the comedy Golden Fleecing,[14] starring Constance Ford and Tom Poston.[15] (Poston would eventually become her third husband.)[8]

That same year, she was one of two finalists for the role of Louise/Gypsy in the original production of Gypsy. During the run of The Cold Wind and the Warm, she spent mornings taking striptease lessons from Jerome Robbins for the role in Gypsy.[16] In his autobiography, Arthur Laurents, the play's author stated, "It came down to between Suzanne Pleshette and Sandra Church. Suzanne was the better actress, but Sandra was the better singer. We went with Sandra."

In February 1961, she succeeded Anne Bancroft as Anne Sullivan Macy opposite 14-year-old Patty Duke's Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.[1]


Her early screen credits include The Geisha Boy, Rome Adventure, Fate Is the Hunter, and Youngblood Hawke, but she was best known at that time for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's suspense film The Birds. Immediately following The Birds, Pleshette was cast in 40 Pounds of Trouble, a comedy film co-starring Tony Curtis and Phil Silvers, which Curtis was producing through his own film production company, Curtis Enterprises.[17][18] 40 Pounds of Trouble was the first motion picture ever filmed at Disneyland, and was distributed by Universal-International Pictures in late 1962.[17][19]

She worked with Steve McQueen in the 1966 western drama film Nevada Smith, was nominated for a Laurel Award for her starring performance in the comedy If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium opposite Ian McShane, and co-starred with James Garner in a pair of films, the drama Mister Buddwing and the western comedy Support Your Local Gunfighter. She starred in a number of Walt Disney family films, most notably in The Shaggy D.A. (1976). She was the lead actress in Hot Stuff (1979) and Oh, God! Book II (1980).

Pleshette provided the voices of Yubaba and Zeniba in the English dub of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki's Academy Award-winning film Spirited Away and the voice of Zira in Disney's direct-to-video film The Lion King II: Simba's Pride (replacing Kathleen Turner)[20] and sang the song "My Lullaby".


Pleshette at the 43rd Emmy Awards, August 25, 1991

Pleshette's first screen role was in the episode "Night Rescue" (December 5, 1957) of the CBS adventure/drama television series Harbormaster, starring Barry Sullivan and Paul Burke. Other early television appearances include Playhouse 90, Decoy, Have Gun – Will Travel, One Step Beyond, Riverboat, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Tab Hunter Show, Channing, Ben Casey, Naked City, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West, and Dr. Kildare, for which she was nominated for her first Emmy Award. She guest-starred more than once as different characters in each of the following 1960s TV series: Route 66,[citation needed] The Fugitive, The Invaders,[21] The F.B.I., Columbo (Dead Weight) (1971) and The Name of the Game.[citation needed]

On May 19, 1971,[22] TV producers saw her on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson[23][24][25][26] and noticed a certain chemistry between Suzanne and Johnny.[citation needed] She was cast as the wife of Newhart's character on the popular CBS sitcom The Bob Newhart Show (1972–1978) for all six seasons,[1] as part of CBS television's Saturday night lineup. She was nominated twice for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She reprised her role of Emily Hartley in the final episode of Newhart's subsequent comedy series, Newhart, in which viewers discovered that the entire later series had been her husband Bob's dream when he awakens next to her in the bedroom set from the earlier series.

Her 1984 situation comedy, Suzanne Pleshette Is Maggie Briggs, was canceled after seven episodes.[27] In 1989, she played the role of Christine Broderick in the NBC drama, Nightingales, which lasted one season. In 1990, Pleshette portrayed Manhattan hotelier Leona Helmsley in the television movie Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean, which garnered her Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominations.[28][29] In addition, she starred opposite Hal Linden in the 1994 sitcom The Boys Are Back.

She had a starring role in Good Morning, Miami, as Mark Feuerstein's grandmother Claire Arnold in season one and played the mother of Katey Sagal's character in the ABC sitcom 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter following John Ritter's death, and appeared as the estranged mother of Megan Mullally's character Karen Walker in three episodes of Will & Grace. The role would prove to be her last.


From 1969 to 1980, Pleshette designed sheets for J.P. Stevens & Co.[30][31][32][33] She also wrote screenplays under a pen name.

Personal life[edit]

Pleshette's 1964 marriage to her Rome Adventure and A Distant Trumpet co-star Troy Donahue ended in divorce after six months.[34]

Her second husband was oilman Tom Gallagher, to whom she was married from 1968 until his death from lung cancer on January 21, 2000. She suffered a miscarriage during her marriage to Gallagher, and they were childless. Asked about children in an October 2000 interview, Pleshette stated: "I certainly would have liked to have had Tommy’s children. But my nurturing instincts are fulfilled in other ways. I have a large extended family; I'm the mother on every set. So if this is my particular karma, that's fine."[35]

In 2001, Pleshette married fellow actor Tom Poston. Poston had been a recurring guest star on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s and a Newhart cast member. But long before they worked together on television, Poston and Pleshette had been involved romantically in 1959, when they acted together in the Broadway comedy Golden Fleecing.[8][14] During the subsequent 40 years, they married others but remained friends. After they were both widowed, the deaths of their spouses brought Poston and Pleshette together again, and they married in 2001. They remained married until his death from respiratory failure in Los Angeles on April 30, 2007. She died the following year, and they are buried close to each other.[36][37]

Suzanne Pleshette was the cousin of the actor John Pleshette.[38]

Illness and death[edit]

On August 11, 2006, Pleshette's agent Joel Dean announced that she was being treated for lung cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Three days later, The Herald-Palladium reported that Dean said the cancer was the size of "a grain of sand" when it was found during a routine X-ray, that the cancer was "caught very much in time," that she was receiving chemotherapy as an outpatient and that Pleshette was "in good spirits."[39]

She was later hospitalized for a pulmonary infection and developed pneumonia which caused her to remain in the hospital for an extended period of time. She arrived at a Bob Newhart Show cast reunion in September 2007 in a wheelchair, which raised concern about her health, although she insisted that she was "cancer-free." (She was seated in a regular chair during the actual telecast.) During an interview in USA Today given at the time of the reunion, Pleshette stated that she had been released four days earlier from the hospital where, as part of her cancer treatment, part of one of her lungs had been removed.[40]

Pleshette died in the early evening of January 19, 2008, 12 days shy of her 71st birthday, in her Los Angeles home.[1] She is buried close to her third husband, Tom Poston (who died the previous year), in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. She received a star[41] on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television on January 31, 2008, the walk's 2,355th star, which was placed (at her request) in front of Frederick's of Hollywood.[42] Bob Newhart, Arte Johnson, and Marcia Wallace spoke at the star's unveiling which had been planned before Pleshette's death. Tina Sinatra accepted the star on Pleshette's behalf.[43][44]


Feature films[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1958 The Geisha Boy Sgt. Betty Pearson First feature film
1962 Rome Adventure Prudence Bell
40 Pounds of Trouble Chris Lockwood
1963 The Birds Annie Hayworth Supporting role in an Alfred Hitchcock film
Laurel Award for Top New Female Personality
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actress
Wall of Noise Laura Rubio
1964 A Distant Trumpet Kitty Mainwarring
Fate Is the Hunter Martha Webster
Youngblood Hawke Jeanne Greene
1965 A Rage to Live Grace Caldwell Tate
1966 The Ugly Dachshund Fran Garrison
Nevada Smith Pilar
Mister Buddwing Fiddle Corwin
1967 The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin Arabella Flagg
1968 Blackbeard's Ghost Jo-Anne Baker
The Power Prof. Margery Lansing
1969 If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium Samantha Perkins Nominated — Laurel Award – Female Comedy Performance
Target: Harry Diane Reed
1970 Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? Ramona
1971 Support Your Local Gunfighter Patience
1976 The Shaggy D.A. Betty Daniels
1979 Hot Stuff Louise Webster
1980 Oh, God! Book II Paula Richards
Arch of Triumph Joan Madou Never completed. Also filmed in 1948 and 1984.
1998 The Lion King II: Simba's Pride Zira Voice, Nominated — Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting, Direct-to-video
2001 Spirited Away Yubaba,
Voice, 2002 English dub

Television films[edit]

Year Film Role Notes
1959 Summer of Decision Susan First television movie
1967 Wings of Fire Kitty Sanborn
1968 Flesh and Blood Nona
1970 Along Came a Spider Anne Banning
Janet Furie
Hunters Are for Killing Barbara Soline
1971 River of Gold Anna
In Broad Daylight Kate Todd
1975 The Legend of Valentino June Mathis
1976 Law and Order Karen Day
Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours Elizabeth Morton
1978 Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape Kid Kate Bliss
1979 Flesh & Blood Kate Fallon
1980 If Things Were Different Janet Langford
1981 The Star Maker Margot Murray
1982 Help Wanted: Male Laura Bingham
Fantasies Carla Webber
1983 Dixie: Changing Habits Dixie Cabot
One Cooks, the Other Doesn't Joanne Boone
1984 For Love or Money Joanna Piper
1985 Bridges to Cross Tracy Bridges
The Belarus File Dana Sutton
1987 A Stranger Waits Kate Bennington
1988 Alone in the Neon Jungle Capt. Janet Hamilton
1990 Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley Based on the life of hotel magnate Leona Helmsley
Nominated — Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film
1992 Battling for Baby Marie Peters
1993 A Twist of the Knife Dr. Rachel Walters

Television series[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Gates, Anita (January 21, 2008). "Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Newhart Actress, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2014. Suzanne Pleshette, the husky-voiced actress who redefined the television sitcom wife in the 1970s, playing the smart, sardonic Emily Hartley on The Bob Newhart Show, died Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 70. Ms. Pleshette died of respiratory failure, her lawyer, Robert Finkelstein, told The Associated Press. Ms. Pleshette had undergone chemotherapy in 2006 for lung cancer.
  2. ^ Belanger, Camyl Sosa (January 24, 2005). Eva Gabor an Amazing Woman: Unscrupulous. iUniverse. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-4697-7750-4.
  3. ^ "alan-freed-1956-Rock-N-Roll-Program" (PDF). Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  4. ^ Katz, Ephraim (1994). The Film Encyclopedia. HarperCollins. p. 1085. ISBN 978-0-0627-3089-3.
  5. ^ "Fate & Fortunes" (PDF). Broadcasting: 70F. September 18, 1967. Retrieved April 19, 2023. Eugene Pleshette, executive VP of MSG-ABC Productions Inc., New York, named executive VP of Don Reid Productions Inc., that city.
  6. ^ "Eugene Pleshette; Theater Executive". Los Angeles Times. September 18, 1991.
  7. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Interview Part 1 of 5". Television Academy Foundation. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ a b c "Suzanne Pleshette Interview Part 2 of 5". Television Academy Foundation. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  9. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Interview Part 3 of 5". Television Academy Foundation. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  10. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Interview Part 4 of 5". Television Academy Foundation. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Interview Part 5 of 5". Television Academy Foundation. July 12, 2012. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.
  12. ^ McLellan, Dennis (January 21, 2008). "Suzanne Pleshette, sultry-voiced comic partner of Newhart; at 70". The Boston Globe. Retrieved March 4, 2008.
  13. ^ "New Play Is Staged At Shubert". Hartford Courant. November 15, 1958. p. 4B.
  14. ^ a b "Golden Fleecing – Broadway Play – Original". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  15. ^ "Anita Loos: From Lorelei Lee to Lea; Lorelei to Lea", The New York Times, October 11, 1959
  16. ^ Lyons, Leonard (February 11, 1959), "Ike Chooses Welk And Leader Butchers Song About His State", Lawrence Journal-World, The Lyons Den, p. 4
  17. ^ a b "Disneyland Locale of Film". Los Angeles Evening Citizen News. May 7, 1962. p. 10. Retrieved April 19, 2023 – via
  18. ^ "Mary Murphy in 'Trouble'". Los Angeles Times. April 23, 1962. p. 13. Retrieved April 19, 2023 – via
  19. ^ Johnson, Erskine (May 14, 1962). "Movie Shoots at Disneyland". Valley Times. North Hollywood, California. p. 6. Retrieved April 19, 2023 – via
  20. ^ "Kathleen Turner Interview 2 - ROD Show, Season 2 Episode 116, 1998". YouTube. December 1, 2022. Retrieved December 9, 2023.
  21. ^ "The Invaders & Roy Thinnes". Retrieved March 4, 2008.
  22. ^ List of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson episodes (1971)#May
  23. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette". Vortago. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  24. ^ "The Vault Series – 12 Volume DVD Collection – As Is Condition (Clearance) – 1974-03-26: It's Streak Week on the Tonight Show. Streaking is all the rage in this trip back to 1974, and rumors abound. Join Johnny with his guests Suzanne Pleshette, James Garner, Robert Klein, Jack Haley Jr., Ed, Doc and More!". Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  25. ^ "Clip Licensing". Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  26. ^ "Tonight – 15-Disc DVD Set – November 19, 1981 – Suzanne Pleshette, Luciano Pavarotti". Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  27. ^ Brooks, Tim & Earle Marsh (2007), The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network Shows, Random House Publishing Group, p. 182, ISBN 978-0-3454-9773-4
  28. ^ "Outstanding Lead Actress In A Miniseries Or A Movie Nominees / Winners 1991". Television Academy. Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  29. ^ "Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean". Golden Retrieved August 19, 2020.
  30. ^ Kron, Joan (November 17, 1977). "Home Beat". The New York Times.
  31. ^ Reif, Rita (February 13, 1977). "Sheets by Design". The New York Times.
  32. ^ "Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 37 —Relative to the J.P. Stevens & Co. Inc". California Legislature. November 1, 1978 – via Google Books.
  33. ^ Slesin, Suzanne (May 23, 1985). "New Sheet Patterns Sail Into Summer". The New York Times.
  34. ^ "Troy Donahues Are Divorced". The New York Times. September 9, 1964.
  35. ^ Edwards, Ian (October 6, 2000). "Suzanne Pleshette—The Iron Lady". Screen India. Archived from the original on July 22, 2009. Retrieved December 26, 2009.
  36. ^ Boedeker, Hal (January 1, 2008). "Remembering Suzanne Pleshette". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 14, 2016.
  37. ^ "Wedding Bells-Suzanne Pleshette Wedding Album". Archived from the original on January 23, 2008. Retrieved March 4, 2008.
  38. ^ "John Pleshette - Turner Classic Movies - TCM".
  39. ^ "Pleshette Being Treated for Cancer". The Herald-Palladium. Benton Harbor, Michigan. Associated Press. August 14, 2006. p. A2. Retrieved April 20, 2023.
  40. ^ Keck, Will (September 6, 2007). "Suzanne Pleshette has her edge back". USA Today. Retrieved January 20, 2008.
  41. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette". Hollywood Walk of Fame. October 25, 2019.
  42. ^ Alcala, Natalie (December 29, 2014). "Bummer: Frederick's of Hollywood Flagship to Close in April". Racked LA.
  43. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Gets Hollywood Star". The Hollywood Reporter. Associated Press. January 31, 2008. ISSN 0018-3660.
  44. ^ "Suzanne Pleshette Honored with Hollywood Walk of Fame Star". May 21, 2011. Archived from the original on November 18, 2021 – via YouTube.

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