Dr. Robert "Bob" Hartley [played by Bob Newhart]: [Unhappy with Emily's choice of marriage counselor] “Emily, I thought you were supposed to find someone neutral.”
Emily Hartley [played by Suzanne Pleshette]: “I did.”
Bob: “She's a woman!”
Emily: “That's right, Bob. I said neutral, not neuter.”—The Bob Newhart Show, “I’m Okay, You're Okay, So What's Wrong?”, Season 2, Episode 10, air date November 17, 1973, written by Earl Barret, David Davis and Lorenzo Music, directed by George Tyne
I’m a fan of both Alfred Hitchcock and John O’Hara, but it was unfortunate that two films—one directed by the “Master of Suspense” (The Birds), the other adapted from a novel by the Pennsylvania writer (A Rage to Live)—wasted the talents of the wondrous young actress Suzanne Pleshette. (Hitchcock particularly seemed put off by the Method-trained brunette; Pleshette later recalled that the director seemed to regret casting her as the woman who loses her boyfriend to blonde Tippi Hedren. Maybe that’s why her character ended up pecked to death by the mysteriously vicious avian creatures.)
Fortunately, television found a place for her. In one of her numerous appearances as a guest on The Tonight Show, where her off-screen bawdy sense of humor was barely contained, someone noticed that she hit it off with comedian Bob Newhart, and she was soon cast his wife in his eponymous show, one of the signature hits of the MTM series factory.
Pleshette, born on this date in 1937, died at age 70—way, way too soon for her legion of fans, particularly those of us who felt that her throaty laugh and shrewd but understanding wifely smile made her the best reason to tune in every week for six seasons of The Bob Newhart Show. She was the closest television counterpart to the vivacious wife played by Irene Dunne in classic Thirties screwball comedies such as The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife.
I never really cared to watch Newhart’s follow-up series in the Eighties--probably because I couldn’t imagine a better on-air partner for him than Pleshette. I’m sure he had fans like myself in mind when he conceived the series finale of the latter show, which depicts him in bed with his first TV wife rather than the younger, blonde one--the past eight seasons all a dream.
That finale became so famous that in 1999, a headline in the humor publication The Onion read, “Universe Ends as God Wakes Up Next to Suzanne Pleshette.”
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