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Remembering Suzanne Pleshette (1937 - 2008)

Jim Hill

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Remembering Suzanne Pleshette (1937 - 2008)

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To millions of television fans, Suzanne Pleshette will always be Emily Hartley. The sarcastic but sexy bride of mild-mannered psychologist Bob Hartley on "The Bob Newhart Show."

But for Disneyana fans, Suzanne Pleshette will always be far more than that. She was Dean Jones' love interest in a trio of comedies that Walt Disney Productions produced -- 1966's "The Ugly Dachshund," 1968's "Blackbeard's Ghost" and 1975's "The Shaggy D.A." The Mouse also paired Ms. Pleshette with Roddy McDowell in that wild & woolly western fantasy, 1967's "The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin." Not to mention Suzanne's voicework on Disney animated projects like "The Lion King II: Simba's Pride" and the English language version of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away."

 Copyright 1966 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Of course, what may intrigue JHM readers is how Ms. Pleshette actually came to be on Walt Disney's radar. You see, Suzanne co-starred with Tony Curtis in "40 Pounds of Trouble," a 1962 Universal Studios release that has a rather unique claim to fame. In that this Norman Jewison film features an extended sequence that was actually shot on location inside of Disneyland.

Long story short: Walt really liked Ms. Pleshette's work in this updated version of Damon Runyon's classic tale, "Little Miss Marker." Which is why he had Suzanne put under contract at Walt Disney Productions in the mid-1960s.

Copyright 1962 Universal Studios / MCA. All Rights Reserved

Which is why Ms. Pleshette had a front row seat for one of the sadder moments in Disney history. When Walt -- after checking out of St. Joseph's Hospital following surgery to remove his left lung -- made one last tour of the studio that he & his brother Roy had built in Burbank.

Suzanne was working with Dean Jones & Peter Ustinov on "Blackbeard's Ghost" when Walt dropped by that soundstage on the lot. And she was immediately struck by how awful Disney looked, how slack and yellow his skin seemed.

Copyright 1968 Walt Disney Productions. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Walt appeared to be in a playful mood that morning. So when Disney commented on the short skirt that Pleshette's character was wearing, the starlet made a point of showing off her new outfit for the boss. Which momentarily amused Walt ... Until his energy flagged and he then had to leave that soundstage.

For years afterward (Particularly whenever she'd return to the Disney lot. Most recently to play Laura Hennessy on that 2002 - 2005 ABC sitcom, "8 Simple Rules"), Suzanne would tell the story about how she went home that night and just cried & cried. Because Pleshette knew -- along with everyone else who'd seen Disney that day on the "Blackbeard's Ghost" set -- that Walt wasn't long for this world.

 James Garner and Suzanne Pleshette on the set of "8 Simple Rules."
Copyright 2003 ABC. All Rights Reserved

Now I know that a remembrance article isn't really the proper forum for editorializing. But given that the number of women who smoke worldwide appears to be on the rise ... I think that it's important to point out here that Walt Disney & Suzanne Pleshette were both longtime smokers. And that habit clearly played a part in these two developing lung cancer. Which then compromised their health and ultimately led to Walt & Suzanne's deaths.

So if you or someone you loves smokes ... Please get some help. We've already lost far too many people to smoking-related illnesses. And we don't need to lose any more. Particularly talented folks like Walt Disney and Suzanne Pleshette.

The entire JHM staff mourns the passing of Suzanne Pleshette & wishes to extend its condolences to her friends & family during their time of sorrow.

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  • Indeed, Lung Cancer takes away the lives of so many people.  Besides taking the lives of Walt Disney and Suzanne Pleshette, it also took of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, who was named a Disney Legend after his death for his long service to ABC News.

    If you smoke, please quit now.  We can't afford to lose any more people to Lung Cancer.

  • Being an old Disney guy, I had the opportunity to watch Suzanne at work on the Disney sound stages on several films. She was a very funny lady, and loved to have a good laugh. I still remember her laugh as she walked down the hallway of our Animation building back in the sixties.

    She was a very classy lady, and I'm sure gonna miss her.

  • I really liked the body of work of this actress. Of course, there was the "Bob Newhart Show", but one of my favorite Disney movies and favorite  Pleshette performances was "Blackbeard's Ghost." She was a wonderful talent and pretty on the screen.  

  • Nice article, Jim. Suzanne Pleshette was one of those personalities that I will always associate with the Disney films of my youth, and I thought she and Dean Jones were just the perfect onscreen couple. I'd also written a tribute to her over on my blog after I heard about her passing because of my fond memories of her through the years. Thanks for the back story on "Forty Pounds of Trouble", by the way. I'd always thought it was pretty neat to see what is practically a travelogue of Disneyland in that non-Disney film, especially in that it captures a feel for what the park was like in those early years. I had no idea that it was also the catalyst for launching Suzanne's career at Disney. That news was quite a revelation!

  • Suzanne was a very beautiful talented  actress but she had this very bad nasty habit of smoking , mostly all of the pictures i saw her in she is lighting up a cigarette and smoking  ultimately led to her death in 2008, smoking does kill not a joke, the first time i saw her was in the Birds in 1963 when i was 7 years old she was smoking in every scene very sad.

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