Thursday, April 2, 2009


The irrepressibly unstoppable Cloris Leachman seems about able to do or say anything. After bringing herself to the pop culture forefront in the last season of "Dancing With the Stars" with her outrageous antics, Leachman has just released her autobiography, Cloris. The book is a rather madcap retrospective about her life and career, which includes the pre-Broadway production of Come Back, Little Sheba, Shakespeare with Katharine Hepburn, a stint in South Pacific, one of the many mothers on TV's "Lassie," her Oscar-winning performance in The Last Picture Show, and of course her Emmy-winning turn as the balletic narcissist Phyllis Lindstrom on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and the spin-off series "Phyllis." Oh yeah, and all those Mel Brooks' movies.

Cloris is never short of entertaining whether she's recounting her experiences in various shows, musing over acting technique, discussing her friendship with Marlon Brando and the Kennedy clan, et al. She reveals a great deal of her close relationship with her always encouraging and free spirited mother and also her strained relationship with her seemingly distant father. College time at Northwestern University with classmates Charlotte Rae (whom she would later replace on TV in "The Facts of Life") and Paul Lynde. Winning Miss Chicago and as a result winning third in the Miss America Pageant. Who knew that she was the one responsible for Julie Harris starring in I Am a Camera? There is a sense of bewildered honesty as if she can't believe her own life either. She has fond memories raising her five children, and utter heartbreak at the devastating death of her son Bryan to drug addiction.

Leachman has written the book with her ex-husband, George Englund, with whom she maintains an incredibly close relationship. While a brisk read at 289 pages, the book is more ennervating for Cloris' flighty stream of consciousness in relaying the facts of her life. It wouldn't be Cloris if it weren't in her charming, witty and bemused style. It's worth picking up to have a glimpse at a show-biz legend showing no signs of slowing down and always looking for the next challenge. It sounds nuts, but I challenge her to take on the role of Violet Weston in August: Osage County. (If she can be swirled around a dance floor by her ankles, she can raise hell on those stairs).

Meanwhile, for the lovers of Mame and Jerry Herman out there, here is the title theme song of her show Phyllis, an amusing send-up of the musical's title song.

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