The facts of Cloris

Pub date June 1, 2010
WriterSean McCourt

STAGE With nearly 250 credits in film, television, and stage roles to her name, Cloris Leachman is a true entertainment icon. It’s hard to believe the ever-vivacious and lively actress got her start in show business competing in the Miss America pageant back in 1946, but the now 84-year-old star has generously filled a career spanning more than 60 years.

But age is irrelevant when talking to Leachman, who continues to work with a full schedule in film and television projects as her solo stage show comes to San Francisco this week at the Rrazz Room. Speaking by phone from Palm Springs, where her former husband, George Englund lives — or as she says, her “Once upon a time” husband — “I don’t like to say my ‘ex.’ I don’t think that’s appropriate. It doesn’t mean what happened,” she said.

“A couple of years ago my family got all concerned about me. I don’t really know what it was, but they felt I wasn’t my old self. My daughter talked to her father, and they decided I should write a book, have a one woman show, do talks — and we did it all,” Leachman said, laughing in a deeply infectious and endearing way.

Incorporating spoken passages along with a little piano, singing, and a healthy dose of humor, the show promises to touch on a broad spectrum of Leachman’s career, which includes notable performances as the bombshell beauty in the noir classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955); her Oscar-winning role as neglected wife Ruth Popper in The Last Picture Show (1971); a long string of successful television appearances (which have garnered her nine Emmys) on programs including The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Phyllis, and, of course, her portrayal of Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein (1974).

The normally forthcoming Leachman demurred when asked about particulars of the show, preferring that people see it for themselves. She did stress that one of her favorite parts of this show — which has been performed in several warm-up gigs leading up to her arrival here — has been interacting and meeting with her fans.

“That’s the fun part, that’s the other half of your show,” she said. “We laugh and hug and cry — having a live audience is thrilling.”

Reminiscing about some of her favorite memories of San Francisco, Leachman espoused her love of the city’s cuisine before commenting — with somewhat embarrassed but gleeful candor — on her fling in a local hotel with Gene Hackman in the 1970s, an assignation she revealed in her autobiography, Cloris, released last year.

“We met in the lobby and he asked if I wanted to have dinner, so we had dinner. I don’t know what happened, we just got on fire, we couldn’t run fast enough to the room,” she laughed heartily. “I remember the first 10 seconds after we got in the room, but I don’t remember anything after that — isn’t that terrible?”

After this week’s shows, Leachman has an array of projects on the horizon, including a new show on Fox from the creators of My Name Is Earl and a role in the film The Fields, a psychological thriller due out in the fall. She will also appear in a movie called You Again with her friend and former Mary Tyler Moore costar Betty White.

Asked about any possible secrets to her success, her openness and self-deprecating humor showed themselves. “I always went on the Johnny Carson show after I’d done a character so people would know I wasn’t that character,” she said seriously, before cracking herself up, and laughing hysterically. “I was even worse!” 


Through June 11

Wed-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 7 p.m., $40–$45

Rrazz Room

222 Mason, SF