Read an Excerpt: 'Cloris'

I want to say a word about Suzanne. She and I were not intimate friends, but we were fellow travelers in the acting world. We knew its ins and outs. We'd run into each other at parties or at one of the networks, and we'd always have a wonderful exchange. Suzanne had her own special sparkle. Sometimes she seemed almost tough, but that was on the outside. Inside was a dear, dear person, a girl I loved. When Suzanne became seriously ill, I tried to contact her, but it was too late. She was past the point where she could respond. I miss her. I miss the color, the originality, the special way of being a woman and an actress that was hers.

All right. Back to Phyllis—a confession first. I'm always late; I've been late all my life. My father drove me to school every day when I was little, and we would almost always arrive late. I don't know if that's when my habitual tardiness got started. It could be. I could just have adopted being late as the way you did things. But I think my lateness comes from something else.

From my earliest days, I saw myself as an artist, therefore, I should be concerned with things essential to the life of an artist. Being punctual isn't one of them. Neither is living by the rules. Since my childhood, I have disliked rules and, for the most part, have avoided them.

The day I auditioned for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I arrived late, probably twenty-five to thirty minutes after the appointed hour. When the receptionist brought me to the inner office, the producers and writers and Mary were sitting in a loose semicircle. They all greeted me, Hi, Cloris. Thanks for coming. That sort of thing.

I'd heard that Jim Brooks, the cocreator of the show, thought I was a fine dramatic actress but had serious doubt that I could be the zany, self-oriented Phyllis they were looking for. So, instead of exchanging greetings with the group, I said, "Which one is Jim?" Jim Brooks pleasantly raised his hand. I walked over to him and sat on his lap and gave him a reassuring hug. That started everybody laughing. I stayed on Jim's lap for the whole interview, answering questions, being raucous, in all ways showing I could be even nuttier than the Phyllis they had in mind. The laughter was nonstop. Jim laughed harder every time I turned and gave him a sexy look. The reason I'd come was to read the part for them, we didn't bother. The role was mine.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show is the best known TV series of those I've appeared in. Though the show was on in the 1970s, nowadays people still come up to me and say, "Cloris, I grew up with you. I never missed an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Was that kooky Phyllis you, or did you invent her? What kind of husband was Lars? He must have been as loony as you. What did your kids think when they saw you on the show?"

The years I spent on The Mary Tyler Moore Show were a small lifetime, and all of us were part of a family. When creative people work together, and their respect for, and confidence in, each other grow with each performance, they develop an intimacy that is, in a way, the best expression of family.

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