21 January 2008

Suzanne Pleshette, and Others

Paragon: Suzanne Pleshette

Suzanne Pleshette has died, and although somebody else is bound to say this, I’ll try to be the first: she was the Myrna Loy of her generation. Just as the older actress embodied a kind of ideal wife (notably in the Thin Man movies), so did Pleshette, on The Bob Newhart Show. She was pretty and witty and bright, as the song goes, and she represented an oasis of sassy, sexy sanity in Dr. Bob Hartley’s crazy universe. By the time I got to college, I didn’t know a straight man who didn’t want to marry her. (The gay guys wanted to be her, though few were keen on being married to Bob Newhart — but that’s another story.)

And that voice! Its huskiness was probably a harbinger of the lung ailments that led to her death — but great art demands great sacrifice. She gave us her all, and she will be missed.

Myrna Loy & William Powell: If it were always like this,
America wouldn’t
need a Defense of Marriage Act.

Another thing I miss: movies with characters. I am reminded of the little old eccentric in the first scene of Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story. He’s got money, too. “I’m cheesy with the stuff,” he explains. “I’m the Wienie King! I invented the Texas Wienie!” Then he adds, “Lay off ’em — you’ll live longer.”

Granted, one reason for Sturges’ prominence is his unrivaled gift for gabby eccentrics, above and beyond the usual quota in a screwball comedy. (Constable Kockenlocker! The Ale and Quail Club! The Lady Eve Sidwich!) But Hollywood movies today put so little store in language, and even foreign films seldom take anything like a comparable delight in oddballs. We are poorer for that.

All hail the Wienie King!
Robert Dudley, with Claudette Colbert

Meanwhile, there’s a new Bette Davis stamp back home. I’d love to lick it, but I just washed my hair.