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Oscar-winning, Cloris Leachman dies at 94

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Oscar-winning, Cloris Leachman dies at 94

2021-01-28 03:43:58

By K.Shalini

Cloris Leachman, an Oscar-winner for her portrayal of a lonely housewife in “The Last Picture Show” and a comedic delight as the fearsome Frau Blücher in “Young Frankenstein” and self-absorbed neighbor Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” has died. She was 94.

Leachman died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Encinitas, California, publicist Monique Moss said Wednesday. Her daughter Dinah Englund was at her side, Moss said.

A character actor of extraordinary range, Leachman defied typecasting. In her early television career, she appeared as Timmy's mother on the “Lassie” series. She played a frontier prostitute in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” a crime spree family member in “Crazy Mama,” and Blücher in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” in which the very mention of her name drew equine commentary.

Salutes from other admiring colleagues poured in on social media. Steve Martin said Leachman “brought comedy’s mysteries to the big and small screen." “Nothing I could say would top the enormity of my love for you,” posted Ed Asner of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show." “Applause on every entrance and exit,” said Rosie O'Donnell.

In 1989, Leachman toured in “Grandma Moses,” a play in which she aged from 45 to 101. For three years in the 1990s she appeared in major cities as the captain’s wife in the revival of “Show Boat.” In the 1993 movie version of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” she assumed the Irene Ryan role as Granny Clampett.

She also had an occasional role as Ida on “Malcolm in the Middle,” winning Emmys in 2002 and 2006 for that show. Her Emmy haul over the years totaled eight, including two trophies for Moore's sitcom, tying her with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the top Emmy winners among performers.

In 2008, Leachman joined the ranks of contestants in “Dancing With the Stars,” not lasting long in the competition but pleasing the crowds with her sparkly dance costumes, perching herself on judges’ laps and cussing during the live broadcast.

She started out as Miss Chicago in the Miss America Pageant and willingly accepted unglamorous screen roles.

During the 1950s, Leachman became busy in live TV drama, demonstrating her versatility, including in roles that represented casting standards of that era.

When Leachman received the Oscar as best supporting actress of 1971, she delivered a rambling speech in which she thanked her piano and dancing teachers and concluded: “This is for Buck Leachman, who paid the bills.” Her father ran a lumber mill.

Cloris Leachman grew up on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, where she was born in 1926. The large family lived in an isolated wooden house with no running water, but the mother had ambitious ideas for her children. Cloris took piano lessons at the age of 5; since the family could not afford a piano, she practiced on a cardboard drawing of the keys.

Admittedly a poor student, Leachman lasted only a year. As a lark while in the Chicago area, she tried out for a Miss Chicago beauty contest and was chosen. She competed in the 1946 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, qualifying as a finalist. Her consolation prize: a $1,000 talent scholarship.

With new ambition, she went directly to New York, where she worked as an extra in a movie and understudied Nina Foch in the hit play “John Loves Mary.”

More understudy jobs followed, and she enrolled at the Actors Studio to hone her craft. “I finally quit because of the smoking,” she said later. “I couldn’t stand that blue haze.”

In 1953, Leachman married George Englund, later a film director and producer, and they had five children: Adam, Bryan, George, Morgan and Dinah. The couple divorced in 1979. Son Bryan Englund was found dead in 1986 at age 30.

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