Suzanne Pleshette, who portrayed Bob Newhart's ground-breaking, wise-cracking, raspy-voiced spouse on TV's classic Bob Newhart Show (CBS, 1972-77), succumbed to lung cancer on Saturday, January 19, at the much too-young an age of 70.
Pleshette's Emily Hartley was a hip and hot TV wife - much different from what say, Florenece Henderson's Carol Brady was or maybe wanted to be on The Brady Bunch (ABC, 1969-73).
A stage-trained New York thespian who made her feature film debut in the 1958 Jerry Lewis laugher The Geisha Boy, Suzanne appeared in movies like The Birds, Nevada Smith, Youngblood Hawke, A Rage to Live and Fate Is the Hunter. She also appeared with Troy Donahue, to whom she was wed for eight months in 1964, in the 1962 romantic drama Rome Adventure and the 1964 western A Distant Trumpet. On Broadway in 1961, Pleshette replaced Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker," opposite Patty Duke as Helen Keller. On TV, she earned an Emmy Award nomination for the title role in the TV movie Leona Helmsley: The Queen of Mean. Her other credits, include the big screen's 40 Pounds of Trouble, If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, Support Your Local Gunfighter, The Shaggy D.A., The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, The Ugly Dachshund and Blackbeard's Ghost.
Pleshette, however, is best remembered for playing what New York Times critic Frank Rich once described as "the sensible yet woolly wife" on the Newhart, the star of which once appeared with her on The Tonight Show shortly before they were paired in the sitcom. A few of the Newhart producers had seen the segment and knew right away that they had found their Emily.
Pleshette earned her two Emmy nominations for the role and, according to a TV Guide article, Bob Newhart "was finding himself outtalked by Suzanne on the set about 12 to 1 but professed to be unperturbed by the phenomenon." "I don't tangle," the actor said, "with any lady who didn't give Johnny a chance to exercise his mouth - even to sneer - for 10 whole minutes."
When Bob returned to TV with yet another sitcom, this one simply titled, Newhart (CBS, 1982-90 - and which also starred Pleshette's then-yet-to-be-husband Tom Poston), he found a new small screen spouse in the guise of by Mary Frann (who passed away in 1998). But Pleshette made a memorable surprise guest shot in this Newhart's series finale - a motion that did not bode well with Frann.
Yet, somehow that all fit with Pleshette's gutzy persona.