January 23, 2008

The Daughter of Alice Kramden

Recently, we have had an unusually large list of celebrity deaths - Allan Melvin (aka, "Sam the Butcher"), Brad Renfro, and most recently, Heath Ledger. As a comics blogger, it would be tempting - but extremely dishonest of me - to post about how Ledger's death moved me. It was extremely tragic - he leaves a two year old daughter behind - but the one passing that made its mark on me is for much more familiar reasons.

Other, smarter bloggers noted the passing of Suzanne Pleshette which, at first glance, seems relatively innocuous. After all, she was a "starlet" in the 1960s, moved onto television success, and then...well, the kind of relative obscurity that meets most celebrities of that time. However, for me, she was...well, how do I begin?

Growing up, one of my favorite shows was (and is) The Bob Newhart Show. In fact, several aspects of my life eerily parallel Mr. Newhart's - we both attended the same high school and college, had flirtations with comedy and psychology...only Mr. Newhart is a much funnier man than I am. Or ever will be.

But like many people my age, we were shaped by television - in that first grand cycle of syndication, receiving input from "classic" shows and then "new" shows, Emily Hartley was - and is - one of the most positive portrayals of working women on television. Her relationship with her husband, the creatively named "Bob", was one of mutual respect, admiration, and care...but without the somewhat treacly, almost overdone nature of most television relationships. It was one of the few relationships where you could see what the characters saw in each other (unlike, say, the Ricardos), and seemed almost ripped from real life (although I adore the Petries - especially Laura - they did seem a little too tv-ish. Yes, it was a different time, but still...)

In fact, in many ways Pleshette took a page from the Alice Kramden play book - a smart, capable woman dealing with the tribulations of her husband's life. However, where Alice dealt with her husband's gotta-get-out-of-this-dump schemes, Emily Hartley gently supported her husband as he dealt with his unusual clientèle and colleagues. Alice Kramden's husband repeatedly told her, "Baby, you're the greatest"; Emily Hartley's husband showed her she was a greatest. She's the kind of woman - smart, independent, and supportive - that I hope to get involved with someday.

Her career outside of Newhart is, well, better served by others; but to demonstrate how much she was loved by her audience...watch the Newhart series finale, and notice the applause when she makes her under-the-wire cameo. Listen to the enthusiasm of the studio audience.

She was - and is - loved. And she will be missed.


Roger Green said...

I liked the Hartleys, because they were, in the words of Mrs. C. from Happy Days, "frisky", and you believed why a hot babe would be with someone as "Bob-like" as Bob.

CoffeeJunkee said...

I totally agree with you in that her death was much more moving that Ledgers.... Like you I watched Bob Newhart as a child and it is still one of my all time favorite shows.. I was recording an episode of the podcast when I found out...... If you listen to episode 30 when it airs you will hear it...I kinda choked up a little.....

Roger Green said...

But Ledger's has all that sick "he died because he was in that gay movie" going for that. AND an Olson twin.

that said, I was watching Pioneers of Television on PBS and the powers that be didn't want Audrey Meadows to play Alice Kramden because she was "too beautiful" to be "married" to Jackie Gleason. They had to dowdy her up. Of course, SP (and Emily) were quite fetching...

Gordon - when they make the Newhart movie, you should play him. Who'll play Pleshette?

Gordon said...

Roger - don't know about Emily/Pleshette (maybe Angie Harmon? Or Alicia Witt?), but I think you would make a *great* Jerry the Dentist.

And Bill Daily as Howard. Accept no substitutes.