❚ EVERY MEL BROOKS FAN knows the face of Cloris Leachman from her outrageous characters, the Transylvanian housekeeper Frau Blücher and dominatrix nurse Charlotte Diesel, so vividly associated with the director’s wild film parodies Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety in the mid-Seventies. Mere mention of stern Frau Blücher’s name caused whinnying horses to rear in fear, and only slowly does Dr “Fronkensteen” Junior work out who she is. “So you and Victor were. . . ?” he asks. “Yes, yes,” she replies. “He vas my… boyfriend.” Later in the Hitchcockian spoof set in an Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, the demented psycho who pronounced her name “Nursh Deezhel” did finally admit: “Perhaps I’ve been a bit too harsh.”
“Cloris’s genius is that she never plays comedy for laughs. She’s deadly serious” – director Mel Brooks
Leachman the actress died this week aged 94 and her dazzling career also embraced an Oscar-winning supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, numerous TV residencies from Lassie and The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off Phyllis to The Beverly Hillbillies, plus cameos in so many TV hits that between 1972 and 2011 she was nominated for 22 Primetime Emmys and won eight. Her twilight years saw her portraying off-beat grandmothers in television and film and competing with celebrities less than half her age on Dancing With the Stars.
➢ The Last Picture Show made Leachman a star – Robert Berkvist in the New York Times: “But she may be best remembered for drawing laughs on Mary Tyler Moore, Phyllis and Malcolm in the Middle.”
➢ Star of film and TV who relished the roles of grandmas and grotesques – Ronald Bergan in The Guardian: “She played Mary Tyler Moore’s manipulative landlady Phyllis Lindstrom for which she was best known.”
➢ Winning the Oscar seemed to liberate Cloris Leachman – Obituary in The Times: “I’m at a point where I’m free to go out and have a little fun with my career,” she said in her acceptance speech.