Suzanne Pleshette

Suzanne Pleshette (January 31, 1937 – January 19, 2008) was an American actress 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) and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). 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. She continued acting until 2004, which was four years before her death at age 70.

Suzanne Pleshette
Publicity photo of Pleshette from the television program The Contenders (ca. 1963)
Born(1937-01-31)January 31, 1937
DiedJanuary 19, 2008(2008-01-19) (aged 70)
Resting placeHillside Memorial Park Cemetery, Culver City
Alma materFinch College
Years active1957–2004
RelativesJohn Pleshette (cousin)

Early life

Pleshette was born on January 31, 1937, in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn, New York, to Eugene Pleshette and Geraldine (née Kaplan).[1] Her parents were Jewish, the children of emigrants from Russia and Austria-Hungary.[2][3] Her mother was a dancer and artist who performed under the stage name Geraldine Rivers. Her father was a stage manager, manager of the Paramount Theater in New York City, of the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn and,[4][5] later, a network executive.[6][7] She graduated from Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts and attended Syracuse University for one semester before transferring to Finch College.[1] She later graduated from Manhattan's prestigious acting school, the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and was under the tutelage of renowned acting teacher Sanford Meisner.[8][9][10][11][12]

Acting career


The Boston Globe described her appearance and demeanor as sardonic and her voice as sultry.[13] She began her career 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.[14] In 1959, she was featured in the comedy Golden Fleecing,[15] starring Constance Ford and Tom Poston.[16] (Poston would eventually become her third husband.)[9]

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.[17] 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 classic suspense film The Birds. 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 The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and sang the song "My Lullaby".


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, Channing, Ben Casey, Naked City, Wagon Train, the pilot episode of The Wild Wild West, and Dr. Kildare, for which she was nominated for her first Emmy Award.[18] She guest-starred more than once as different characters in each of the following 1960s TV series: Route 66,[19][20] The Fugitive,[21] The Invaders,[22] The F.B.I., Columbo (1971) and The Name of the Game.[23]

On May 19, 1971,[24] TV producers saw her on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson[25][26][27][28][29] and noticed a certain chemistry between Suzanne and Johnny.[30] 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 memorable 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.[31][32] 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. 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.

Personal life

Pleshette's 1964 marriage to her Rome Adventure and A Distant Trumpet co-star Troy Donahue ended in divorce after just eight months.[33]

Pleshette designed sheets for J. P. Stevens.[34][35][36][37][38]

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 the couple was 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."[39]

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.[9][15] 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.[40][41]

Suzanne Pleshette was the cousin of the actor John Pleshette.

Illness and death

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, New York Newsday reported that Dean claimed 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".

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.[42]

Pleshette died in the early evening of January 19, 2008, at her Los Angeles home 12 days before her 71st birthday.[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[43] 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.[38][44] 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.[45][46]


Feature films

Year Film Role Notes
1958The Geisha BoySgt. Betty PearsonFirst feature film
1962Rome AdventurePrudence Bell
40 Pounds of Trouble Chris Lockwood
1963The BirdsAnnie HayworthSupporting 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 NoiseLaura Rubio
1964A Distant TrumpetKitty Mainwarring
Fate Is the HunterMartha Webster
Youngblood HawkeJeanne Greene
1965A Rage to LiveGrace Caldwell Tate
1966The Ugly DachshundFran Garrison
Nevada SmithPilar
Mister BuddwingFiddle Corwin
1967The Adventures of Bullwhip GriffinArabella Flagg
1968Blackbeard's GhostJo-Anne Baker
The PowerProf. Margery Lansing
1969If It's Tuesday, This Must Be BelgiumSamantha PerkinsNominated — Laurel Award – Female Comedy Performance
Target: HarryDiane Reed
1970Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?Ramona
1971Support Your Local GunfighterPatience
1976The Shaggy D.A.Betty Daniels
1979Hot StuffLouise Webster
1980Oh, God! Book IIPaula Richards
Arch of Triumph
1998The Lion King II: Simba's PrideZiraVoice, Nominated — Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting
2001Spirited AwayYubaba,
Voice, 2002 English dub

Television films

Year Film Role Notes
1959Summer of DecisionSusanFirst television movie
1967Wings of FireKitty Sanborn
1968Flesh and BloodNona
1970Along Came a SpiderAnne Banning
Janet Furie
Hunters Are for KillingBarbara Soline
1971River of GoldAnna
In Broad DaylightKate Todd
1975The Legend of ValentinoJune Mathis
1976Law and OrderKaren Day
Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 HoursElizabeth Morton
1978Kate Bliss and the Ticker Tape KidKate Bliss
1979Flesh & BloodKate Fallon
1980If Things Were DifferentJanet Langford
1981The Star MakerMargot Murray
1982Help Wanted: MaleLaura Bingham
FantasiesCarla Webber
1983Dixie: Changing HabitsDixie Cabot
One Cooks, the Other Doesn'tJoanne Boone
1984For Love or MoneyJoanna Piper
1985Bridges to CrossTracy Bridges
The Belarus FileDana Sutton
1987A Stranger WaitsKate Bennington
1988Alone in the Neon JungleCapt. Janet Hamilton
1990Leona Helmsley: The Queen of MeanLeona HelmsleyBased 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
1992Battling for BabyMarie Peters
1993A Twist of the KnifeDr. Rachel Walters

Television series


  1. Gates, Anita (January 21, 2008). "Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Newhart Actress, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-03. 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.
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  3. Belanger, Camyl Sosa (2005). Eva Gabor an Amazing Woman: Unscrupulous. iUniverse. p. 120. ISBN 0-595-34160-8.
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  44. "Bummer: Frederick's of Hollywood Flagship to Close in April".
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