Cloris Leachman, age 94, passed away on January 27, 2021, Encinitas, CA. She was born April 30, 1926, in Des Moines, Iowa, to Cloris (née Wallace) and Berkeley Claiborne “Buck” Leachman. Her father worked at the family-owned Leachman Lumber Company, and her middle sister, Claiborne Cary was an actress and singer. She was a graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School and Northwestern University in the School of Education. While at Northwestern, she became a member of Gamma Phi Beta and was a classmate of future comic actors Paul Lynde and Charlotte Rae. She began appearing on television and in films shortly after competing in Miss America in 1946 as Miss Chicago.
Leachman studied acting under Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio in New York City. She had been cast as a replacement for the role of Nellie Forbush during the original run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. A few years later, she appeared in the Broadway-bound production of William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba, but left the show before it reached Broadway when Katharine Hepburn asked her to co-star in a production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
There were further memorable performances in Leachman’s filmography, including her well-deserved Oscar-winning supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971) and parts in three of Mel Brooks’s vaudeville comedies. But it was television that took up the bulk of her career, and for which she won eight Primetime Emmy awards out of 22 nominations.
Her first regular series was Lassie (1957-58), in which she was Ruth Martin, the mother of the dog’s owner. She won her first Emmy for A Brand New Life (1973), as a woman having her first child at 40. However, it was The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77), in which she played Mary’s egotistical and manipulative landlady, Phyllis Lindstrom, for which she was best known. With perfect comic timing, Leachman managed to make an unsympathetic, irritating character so warmly welcomed by audiences that, after 34 episodes, she was given the starring role in a successful spin-off series, Phyllis (1975-77).
Cloris’ spouse was George Englund who passed away in 1979. She is survived by 5 children; Dinah Englund, Morgan Englund, Bryan Englund, Adam Englund, George Englund, Jr. On January 27, 2021, Leachman died in her sleep at her home in Encinitas, California at the age of 94. The cause of death was a stroke with COVID-19 as a contributing factor.