Monday, January 21, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette—R.I.P.

My heart broke a little bit when I heard this news yesterday. (via Norwegianity)

Suzanne Pleshette, the husky-voiced star best known for her role as Bob Newhart's sardonic wife on television's long-running "The Bob Newhart Show," has died at age 70.

I had a major crush on her back in the day, fueled partly by the fact that any woman attracted to Bob Newhart would have to find me irresistable.

You and damn near anyone with half a sex drive, Mark. Suzanne Pleshette wasn't a mega-Hollywood star, but she was in her youth a simply ravishing-looking woman. She was the classic LowerManhattanite dark-haired, swarthy beauty I fell madly in love with in my youth.

When did I fall in love with her? During my early teens when here in New York City there was a weekday afternoon TV institution called “The 4:30 Movie” on the local ABC affiliate. They did theme weeks. There was ‘Martin & Lewis Week”, “Frank Sinatra Week” (with “Robin & The Seven Hoods” and “Von Ryan's Express”), “Monster Week” (featuring Godzilla movies), favorite of all, “Steve McQueen Week”, which would show “The Great Escape” and ...

...The McQueen/Natalie Wood “topical” weepie “Love With The Proper Stranger”, along with “Nevada Smith”, one of the most violent westerns ever filmed.

These two movies featured two of the archetype LM beauties—the aforementioned Wood, at her ripest and most beautiful in “Stranger”, and the delectable Pleshette in “Nevada Smith”. Steve McQueen week would wreck me—for one because of his cool which I idolized and tried to emulate (along with 90% of the male population) to no end, and also because of the two raven-haired lovelies Wood and Pleshette.

Pleshette played the humanizing and ultimately doomed Pilar, to McQueen's vengeance-sweating Max Sand and one viewing of her was enough to mess me up for years. Maybe they used bronzer or lit her just so, but my God, she was just so perfectly beautiful in that movie.

I was done. I was in love.

Between her, and Natalie Wood (who some would say Pleshette was the “poor man's” version of) McQueen week left me a crush-addled mess. “Musical Week” on the 4:30 Movie was the death-blow, in my seeing the coal-haired Dorothy Dandridge for the first time in “Carmen Jones” and officially beginning puberty with an M-80 blast of hormones.

But I never forgot Pleshette. I fell in love with her again when she was on Newhart in her mature, smoky sensuality—making me wonder “How the fuck did a dweeb like Newhart's Dr. Hartley end up with her?”

I chalked it up to psychologist mind-control his character used.

Kept a soft spot in my heart for her all these years. That olive complexion. The sexy turn to camera during the Newhart show's opening theme (lovingly titled “Home to Emily”—her character). And now, yet another, one of the last—of my boyhood crushes is gone.

It's funny how people you see on a cathode ray tube or a celluloid screen can so affect you when you're young. Make you damn near fall in love with them. And you realize when you grow older that they do too. And because they're much older than you are, they eventually die before you do, and break your heart a little bit.

But you keep them in your heart still—the living and the passed on.

My list of boyhood crushes:

Mary Tyler Moore (in her Dick Van Dyke and MTM show days)
Natalie Wood
Barbara Eden (in her bad girl, dark-haired “Jeannie II” guise)
Dorothy Dandridge (from “Carmen Jones”...have mercy!)
Tracy Reed (from the all-Black ABC sitcom version of “Barefoot In The Park”)
Denise Nicholas (“Room 222”)
Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek, baby!)
...and of course, the lovely, lush-voiced Suzanne Pleshette.

And with that, a little part of my heart goes. R.I.P. Suzanne.

Any folks from your youth you fell in love with the same way? Feel free to share your memories in comments.

UPDATE: For the old New York movie heads
Classic openings and closes for those memorable movie shows.

WABC's 4:30 Movie

WOR's Million Dollar Movie

WOR's 8 O'Clock Movie