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Scott D. Pierce: You gotta love Cloris Leachman

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Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman

Frank Micelotta, Fox

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — There's an amusement park ride on the Santa Monica pier that spins and jerks up and down. Some certainly find it fun, but I commented to a one of my TV critic pals that it would, without doubt, cause me to, um, lose my lunch.

As I was making that comment, we noticed one of the people riding that particular ride: Cloris Leachman.

She's 84 years old.

A short time later, Leachman was in the bungee ride — big bungee cords that bounce you up and down.

She's 84 years old.

What was she thinking?

"Why not?" Leachman said. "We're here to have fun, aren't we?"

How do you not love Cloris Leachman? Even when she's annoying the heck out of you.

Like when, at a press conference for her new TV show, "Raising Hope," she insisted one critic stand up. Then sit down. Then stand up again.

Or when several questions were directed to executive producer Greg Garcia ("My Name Is Earl"), she said, "You're asking him all the questions. That's not nice."

Or, when there was a question about whether the premise of Fox's "Raising Hope" — that a young man gains custody of his infant daughter when her mother is executed for murder — might be a little dark.

"We think it's funny," she said before asking if the character was really dead. Told she is, Leachman said, "That's sort of dark, isn't it?"

Or when she asked co-star Martha Plimpton about her meeting with Garcia: "Did you flash him?"

Or when she insisted on rearranging the chairs on the podium.

"Every day," co-star Garrett Dillahunt sighed.

"This is why I told the studio we need 14 hours a day to shoot," Garcia said.

If you think that this sort of behavior is new for Leachman, well, think again. Nearly two decades ago I was doing a one-on-one phone interview with her, and she was very, very insistent that I make certain that my infant twins were breast fed.


In the very funny pilot episode of "Raising Hope," Leachman's character is mostly senile, with brief intervals where she snaps out of it. But Garcia promises that as the series goes on, she'll have more to do.

"We have lots of fun stuff planned for Cloris' character. She's not just going to be in and out of being lucid," he said. "There's a lot of fun stuff, and we find out some history of her character."

What prompted her to take on a role in a weekly series when, certainly, she doesn't have to work that hard?

"(Gosh) knows. Isn't it ridiculous?" she said. "It's funny, brilliant. (Expletive.) Great cast, great story, baby. Do we have a dog?"

"Not yet," said Lucas Neff, who plays the young father. "We'll get one, I'm sure."

Well, what Cloris Leachman wants, Cloris Leachman gets.

IT WAS A JOKE: Despite what you might have read elsewhere, Leachman doesn't hate Betty White. If you were in the room when she was asked about her former "Mary Tyler Moore Show" co-star, you know Leachman's response was completely in jest.

"I'm so sick of Betty White," Leachman said. "Never liked her."

Clearly, she was joking. Despite irresponsible "reporting" elsewhere.

(Gee, isn't the blogosphere great? Doesn't have to be true, it just has to be.)

If you missed the whole quote, Leachman followed up by saying, "We have a movie coming out that we made together. It's called 'You Again.' "

The geniuses who misreported Leachman's joke are the same ones who didn't understand what she said when Dillahunt and Garcia talked about what a great idea it would be to have White guest star on an episode of "Raising Hope."

"She could make a soufflé and I could open the oven," Leachman said. "That would be funny. And slam it and make the soufflé go down."

That would be what happened on the classic, 1974 episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Titled "The Lars Affair," it was about Sue Ann Nivens (White) having an affair with Phyllis Lindstrom's (Leachman) husband.

Apparently, Garcia never saw that, either.

"Look for that one — the soufflé episode," he said.

EMMYS MATTER TO HER: Leachman has won more Emmy Awards than any other actress — eight prime-time Emmys and one daytime Emmy. So you might think that, at this point, they aren't that important to her.


"You bet your life!" she said. "If I don't get an Emmy for this show, I'm leaving."

And she keeps her awards prominently displayed.

"My Emmys are on a shelf that I had built in a loft over the dining room of a two-story condo that I moved into, and it's just perfect for all these things," Leachman said. "Emmys and other things in the corners and in the middle. The Academy Award's in the middle.

"The English Academy Award is in a three-corner cabinet in my bedroom. It's a Wedgwood and you wouldn't want to get it broken. And then, the little Golden Globe, it's with the Academy Award, in the middle, then the Emmys and then some other life-achievement things."

She must have a pretty big condo.

e-mail: pierce@desnews.com