Few Hollywood names have had a longer and more impressive career than Cloris Leachman. Leachman’s long-running career has led to a slew of awards to the point where her award winnings and nominations have their own separate Wikipedia page. Her career began in the 1940’s and ran until her death in 2021. It partially started with a stand-out film debut in a film noir classic, Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The movie begins with her running into the headlights of a car being driven by Ralph Meeker and thereby thrusting him into the plot of the movie. It also thrusts the audience into the movie’s events as well.
Leachman continued with appearances in films like The Rack (1956) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Her most prolific work was on TV, however, including starring in TV’s Lassie from 1957 to 1958. She also appeared in episodes of Rawhide, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Loretta Young Show, Gunsmoke, The Donna Reed Show, The Twilight Zone (in one of the show’ best-remembered episodes, “It’s a Good Life”), The Untouchables, Route 66, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 77 Sunset Strip, Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, The Big Valley, and Mannix. Her career received a big boost when she appeared in Peter Bogdanovich’s nostalgic classic The Last Picture Show (1971) as a sexually repressed housewife who has an affair with the young main character played by Timothy Bottoms. The part landed her an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress” and an even bigger place in film history.
Leachman then started to make more films including co-starring in a number of Mel Brooks’ classics such as playing Frau Blücher *insert horse whinny* in Young Frankenstein (1974) and as the spoofy Alfred Hitchcock villainess in High Anxiety (1977). During this time period, she also became even more successful on TV. She landed the role of Phyllis Lindstrom, Mary Richards’ opinionated neighbor in The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The role landed her two Emmys and a brief spin-off, Phyllis (1975-1977). It’s funny to think that at first the casting people didn’t even want her as Phyllis as they thought her screen persona at the time was too sweet to play the role, but Leachman proved them wrong in the audience process.
Leachman’s filmography grew in both films and television after her work in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, including in being in The Facts of Life for a number of episodes. She also proved to be great in voiceover work including playing Mrs. Glick in the “Three Men and a Comic Book” episode of The Simpsons who is an old lady that lets Bart do backbreaking chores for her only she ends up underpaying him (to put it mildly). The character was so funny that she continued to appear on the show even without Leachman voicing her. Her voice work is also showcased in the Disney English dub of Castle in the Sky (1986) (where her voice is used particularly well) and in another English dub of a Miyazaki hit, Ponyo (2008).
Leachman’s later-day work usually amounted to playing old ladies in comedies whether for a brief appearance or for a bigger role. Never have it be said that she overplayed her hand, however, as she proved to be very good in this type of role similar to what she showcased playing funny old coots in The Simpsons and Castle in the Sky. This is also the type of role that made her a regular on Raising Hope (2010-2014) as “Maw Maw.” Considering this type of role made-up a bulk of her later career, it was probably expected that she was at the end of said career. She died on January 26, 2021 in Encinitas, California of natural causes. She was 94 years old. While she is gone, nobody can say she didn’t make every second of her screentime count.