One of my all-time favorite actresses. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, she moved back and forth between television and film. She was bright-eyed and sassy, her husky voice and assertive manner made sure you never took your eyes off of her. Her deep voice was often called sultry, but I think that described her entire manner. She usually played the wife or girlfriend, in co-starring roles, but she could have been the star. She certainly was a star.
My 10 favorite Suzanne Pleshette roles.
Support Your Local Gunfighter (1970) She plays Patience Barton, the daughter of one
of the mine owners, who is involved in a battle with a rival mine owner. James Garner plays a gambler mistaken for a famous gunfighter, who Patience instantly dislikes. She eventually changes her mind. Patience is hot-tempered and quick to grab a rifle and start shooting. Pleshette gets to embody Patience’s many over-the-top emotions. A very fun role.
The Bob Newhart Show (1972-1978) Emily Hartley was no stay at home wife. She had a teaching career and she was an equal partner in her marriage. This was one of the first shows where the wife was very independent and had an equal say in her home and her own opinions. She even had a higher I.Q. Than her husband.
Pleshette was interviewed about her TV marriage to Bob Newhart. “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.”
Columbo – “Dead Weight” (1971) In season one, she plays a witness to a murder, then
after the accused murderer romances her, she changes her mind about him. Columbo then has an uncooperative witness. She doesn’t play a flighty woman, just an emotionally vulnerable one. Great performance.
The Birds (1963) A co-starring role in a Hitchcock thriller, she plays counterpoint to Tippi Hedren’s refined and overtly sexy character. Her role is less sophisticated but still smart.
The Ugly Dachshund (1966) The first of her three Disney films with Dean Jones. The two were wonderful together, as she plays exasperated perfectly.
Route 66 (1960, 1961) Two guest starring roles, she was good in both. Even at a young age she had that certain confidence yet wide-eyed youthfulness. Her career was just getting started and you knew she was going places.
Newhart (1990) Pleshette wasn’t in the series, just the final episode, where, Bob Hartley (from The Bob Newhart Show) wakes up and he realizes that Newhart was just a dream. Emily Hartley is beside him in bed, but you don’t know it till she turns over.
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970) A very small part as Ramona, a waitress the the Tony Curtis hits on. Not much of a role, but she’s brassy and no pushover.
Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) The best of her films with Dean Jones. She’s smart and
brassy, and holds her own with any co-star. Comedy was her forte.
The Shaggy D.A. (1976) A sequel to The Shaggy Dog, and the lesser of her Disney films, but still a delight. Disney films were running out of steam creatively. She played the role for all it was worth, but it was Dean Jones and Tim Conway’s film.
An interesting fact about her. Pleshette and actor Tom Poston (Newhart) dated in the late 1950’s. Each married other people, and eventually worked with each other on The Bob Newhart Show. Years later, each was widowed and reconnected, marrying in 2001 and staying married until his death in 2007. She passed away the next year.
“They are a romantic duo,” Tim Conway, a friend of Poston’s, told People magazine in 2001. “It’s almost embarrassing.”
What I liked was her earthiness. She was always a very good guest with Johnny Carson, in fact, producers of The Bob Newhart Show hired her based on what they saw of her with Carson shows.
I saw this quote from an old article about her, which described her personality. “Her conversations – mostly meandering monologues – are sprinkled with aphorisms, anecdotes, salty opinions, and X-rated expletives.”
She was the salt of the earth: A salty language and earthy personality.