Monday, January 21, 2008

This Bird Can Fly: Suzanne Pleshette, 1937-1970

I was sixteen or so when The Bob Newhart Show started its run, and Suzanne Pleshette could not have happened at a better time in my life--although she did confuse me, and more than a little: I liked the show, but really liked her, and I wasn't sure why. She seemed the opposite of everything I thought I needed: a bit too able to see through her husband's weaknesses, above most of his stammering objections, almost cool in her appraisal of his worth. Me, I craved all the forgiving I could glom my clammy little hands onto, and a blind eye to all my faults, and unquestioning admiration--but Emily Hartley would have provided very little of that. Besides, she was twenty years my senior.

--And was that it? Was she simply the quintessential Older Woman? There was the throaty voice, those big beautiful eyes, that self-assured set to her frame. But I think it was more than post-adolescent leering--or misbegotten mooning. Or at least not simply that. She was a promise somehow, that when I finally grew up the rest of the way I might run into someone who'd look right at me, and if she smiled it would not be a courtesy but a fact. I'm lucky that Someone came along, and she has kept that promise--for twenty-six years and counting--but I'm also happy that Emily shook me up just enough to wake me up just a little, and help me see more clearly what I should--well, see more clearly.

Besides, once I made the connection to Annie Hayworth in The Birds (1963) I realized Pleshette had been taking me to task practically all my life, almost smiling, head cocked, cigarette (oh, poor Suzanne) resting in her hand, the weary world her intimate companion and constant challenge, as much relished as endured, like anything worth wanting.

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