January 31, 2008
Suzanne Pleshette’s “Endings”
Written by Suzanne Maxx
My cousin Suzanne Pleshette was my Muse as an actress, and I know I’m not alone when I grieve for the loss of a icon, a star, whose talent, being, deep voice and breath reached the world through media—and “made a difference”. However, those words would be too flowery for her. She would remind me, “That is a cliché, Suzanne—tell it like it is” and she did, and no matter what I write now, I can hear her unforgettably voice, criticizing because she detested too much praise or platitude, and was suspicious of unsolicited approval.
Yes, I was her namesake and as early as I remember, within my close NewYork Jewish family, our name set up an automatic relationship that brought being a “distant cousin” closer. I can hear it now, “Suzanne, like your famous cousin who had become a star, actress Suzanne Pleshette, who left New York, and lives now in Hollywood”.
“You look like Suzanne Pleshette,” I heard through my early years as an actress in NYC. I don’t remember consciously deciding to follow in her foot steps by attending the High School of Music & Performing Arts, and studying the Meisner technique with Stanford Meisner’s protégé. All the stories from family members about the Paramount Theatre and my relatives, her parents Gene & Gerry created a buzz. Growing up I dreamt of the day we would finally meet.
On the opening & closing night of her Broadway play in 1982 we met backstage. It was a climatic moment in my life, and it played out how I imagined. She recognized me as her cousin, with an embrace. As an actor, doing bit parts on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope during college Suzanne said, “If you decide to come to LA, call”.
“Oven’s are good for storing sweaters,” Suzanne exclaimed at our first lunch together at Nate & Al’s in Beverly Hills when I moved to California from NYC. She had a gift for exposing character, even her own, at its core. She was bold, and she spoke with frankness, and truth that was unforgettable.
I remember her telling me, “You need something extraordinary, that is unique, besides your looks.” She explained, “My voice gave me a distinction.” It was also her independent nature and fierce prevailing drive. Her approach to character, “living truthfully in the moment,” a technique from Meisner made her vast work over the years as an actor solid.
Every time I saw The Bob Newhart Show I was reminded by my Grandmother, “Not only is Suzanne on TV, but she designed the sheets on their bed”. Suzanne knew integrated marketing before we had put those words together and she broadcast the family trait of being ahead of the time. They may have been one of the first couples to be in bed together on television that was “sexy” for TV then.
My Grandparents attended Suzanne’s wedding to Troy Donahue in 1964, I was only 1yr. old, but grew up with the commotion and stories that went with that marriage, and divorce. When we connected in LA Suzanne was married and seemed to have found true love in relationship, and luckily more than once until the death of both her spouses, Tommy Gallagher, and later Tom Poston not to mention the marriage to Bob, that did seem to transcend fiction over the years.
During the writer’s strike in the late 1980’s I had come back from producing my first show in Japan with the vision and concept for World Team, a “tell-a-vision” project using “real” people. Suzanne was one who encouraged me to write a script, back in then I heard countless times, “If you want it on television, there would have to be a script. No one will watch real people on television”. Timing, it is all in the timing as good comedy.
Suzanne was one of the first people to have read the World Team script I wrote, when no one at that time believed people would watch “real people” without a script. (Yes, back then, this thought to be an original concept). Her critique was brutal but accurate at the time, about the content, she said, “This is not for an American television audience,” and other harsh truths. She still helped with my first meetings for World Team. I remember her reminding, “Don’t take it personally kid, my friends appreciated the true feedback,” and they did, but at the time, I did not because it hurt coming from someone I loved who was, “larger than life”.
Now with sorrow and loss of a friend, distant cousin, and legend, I can still smile and laugh, comforted by a true perspective that Suzanne so beautifully broadcast to the world, a universal truth about time---it was a climatic moment in her career and simultaneously in the history of television. Bob awoke in bed with what we thought was his present wife in Bob Newhart recalling a dream, (which was a synopsis of the Bob Newhart series ) we then saw he was talking to his wife, the give away about time was his wife was Suzanne Pleshette-. It was the ending of Bob Newhart’s shows, and it brought us back to a new beginning that the other reality which we thought had ended years ago, had really never ended at all.
In a moment, television did indeed “tell-a-vision” for us all—
It brought to question the reality of life through time, and answered with the metaphor of a dream, that many invested in as reality, though hours, seasons, years of The Bob Newhart Show, and then once again with the last episode of Bob Newhart many years later in reality.
Once again I was reminded how precious every breath is, every moment especially with later learning about Suzanne’s lung challenges, and being able to truly empathize.
“I really need to call Suzanne, I wonder how she is?” I wrote in my journal on the 19th, I guess we all have calls we wish we made. Now I further realize the power of intuition, the breath, voice, and something else; it is so critical to love in each moment and be able to laugh at it all, thank you Suzanne for making us laugh, and teaching us to laugh at it all even through the tears. If I had said, “Don’t you have a birthday coming up,” she might have said, “Doesn’t everybody?”
Timeless emotions will surely live on from your twinkle inside an electronic box—that would spark laughter from the re-runs of The Bob Newhart Show, and that larger then life moment of Bob Newhart. We will certainly shake with fear seeing you pecked to death as a schoolteacher in Hitchcock’s legendary, The Birds. We can still remember you in Oh, God! (Book 2). All these emotions are wrapped into the fact that you died only days before the installation of your “star” in Hollywood’s Walk of Fame” planned especially for you on your 71st Birthday, today. You still are making us laugh, through the tears.
We need not gaze down on the concrete star in front of Fredrick’s of Hollywood, nor reflect on the ones sparked from the twinkle inside ourselves with memories; but instead look up at the stars that shine in the sky and bring forth eternal wonder. Your timeless voice lives in many as we remember to question the reality of “endings”.
"I'm an actress, and that's why I'm still here," she said in a 1999 interview. "Anybody who has the illusion that you can have a career as long as I have and be a star is kidding themselves”.