Cloris Leachman gears up for Sketchfest

From The San Francisco Examiner

January 23, 2011
By Lisa Geduldig


Cloris Leachman is just one of the big names taking part in the 10th anniversary Sketchfest, which runs through Feb. 5. The pint-size 82-year-old comedian — who has won a best supporting actress Academy Award, eight Primetime Emmys and one Daytime Emmy — will be part of the festival’s final-night celebration at the Castro Theatre.

Who had the biggest influence on you in your life?

My mother and then my mother-in-law. Who they were as women influenced me. My mother was darling and pretty, 5-0½ [tall] and wore a size 3 shoe. She would introduce me to things more than anything. She was never strong, never punished me. One day, I was 6 years old, my mother said, “We’re going to go sketching today.” There was an empty acre with a barn on it and a pine tree. Mama said: “Whaddya expect a little bird would see if he was flying over that barn?” I couldn’t imagine, and she started drawing. My mother-in-law was Mabel Albertson. She was everyone’s mother-in-law. She was Elizabeth Montgomery’s mother-in-law on “Bewitched.” I loved her more than anyone else on Earth.

Who have been some of your funny influences along the way?

Who’s the funny guy? He’s dead now. Lenny Bruce. He started it. I was never funny. My sister was funny. In about sixth grade, they passed along little books, and they’d write things about you: They wrote “cute, but silly.” My husband’s the funniest person I’ve ever met.

Do you have a favorite role you’ve played?

I don’t know that anyone has ever seen it. It was a show that was supposed to be on prime time, “The Woman Who Willed a Miracle.” I was the woman; she worked in an ammunition factory during World War I. A TV exec said, “Oh, who wants to watch a blind kid on prime time for two hours?” We all got Emmys.

What was it like playing Frau Blücher in “Young Frankenstein”? Was it hard to keep such a straight face?

Gene [Wilder] would laugh until I would shoot him. I had a rifle. Mel [Brooks] gave it to me. We locked Gene and the monster in together. When we started up the stairs the first time, and I’m in front with this unlit chandelier with candles, and I turned to Gene and said, “Stay close to the candles.” He would start laughing. Finally by the 18th take, he was hopeless. I would look back and his face was in two places.

Do you have a favorite line you’ve delivered?

“He vas my boyfriend!” and “Would you care for a brandy before retiring? Varm milk? Oooval-TINE?” [from “Young Frankenstein”].

What was it like playing Phyllis Lindstrom on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”?

Wonderful, fabulous, incredible, wonderfully, wildly good. They’d rewrite; they’d already been on camera, and I would still be trying to learn my lines. I’d throw away the script with my left hand and open the door with my right and say, “Hi, hi.” Valerie [Harper] and I would go to lunch every day and try to figure out what we were going to do. Mary always knew.

Fill in the blank: Being neighbors with Judy Garland was _______.

Nothing. Her daughter, Lorna [Luft], used to come over all the time with Katey Sagal and be with our kids. One day they came over and very seriously wanted me to adopt them. I had a linen room upstairs that I called the screaming room, so if anyone needed a scream. … One time our neighbors up the street called and said, “Please save Judy’s life!” and I got her out of the swimming pool and stayed up with her [the neighbor had the kids], and she said, “Can’t anyone love me anymore?”

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