Cloris Leachman captured the hearts of TV viewers during her turn as Phyllis on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show," a role that earned her two Emmys.
Since then, Leachman has not slowed down one bit. She has appeared in more than 50 films and more than 130 television shows.
Most recently, she played the most charming character of them all, herself, on "Dancing With the Stars."
Now, for the first timer, Leachman looks back on her wild life in a candid new book.
I said at the beginning that I wasn't going to write my book in chapters. That also meant I wouldn't always set things down in a chronological line—as evidenced by what I've written so far.
Actors have to submerge themselves in their roles, lose their own identity, and actually become the character they're playing. They must think, eat, drink, and go to the bathroom as the character does. That can bring confusion to life.
For instance, in the 1971 film The Last Picture Show, which is based on a novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry, I played Ruth Popper, a spare, lean woman who lives an emotionally barren life in Texas. She is married to the high school football coach who is always away and, it seems, probably gay. That is Ruth Popper's life on the outside. Inside of her is a full-fledged female who wistfully retains the hope that romance might yet come her way. There were no frills either in the production or in my performance. The film was shot in black and white, and I wore no make-up.
Being Ruth Popper as her dormant emotions are awakened by a boy in his late teens was a deeply human experience. It radiated through my life. In preparing for the filming and during it, I not only came to look, walk, and talk like that sensually undernourished woman, but to become her. The rewards, both personal and professional, were extravagant. I won the Oscar for that performance.
I didn't read or audition for the role. The producers called my agent and said they wanted me to play the part. Their "firm offer," as it's called in the business, included where and when I'd be working and what the compensation would be. My agent brought the offer and the script to me. I read the script and told him I'd like to do the part.
Peter Bogdanovich was the director, and the preproduction process began with a reading of the script at his house. On that first occasion, Bogdanovich said something surprising: he thought Ellen Burstyn and Eileen Brennan and I were interchangeable, we could all play each other's parts. He asked Ellen first which part she would like to play. He said he thought it should be Ruth Popper. Ellen said no. She didn't want that role, so it came back to me. In truth, I would have been happy with any of the three roles, though I did like the part of Ruth Popper best.
Soon the production was under way. As we moved through the weeks Ellen and I became very close. Jeff Bridges, who played the part of Duane, proved to be not only a terrific actor but a wonderful man. All us ladies in the cast loved him and were attracted to him. It was my impression that Timothy Bottoms, who played my teenage lover, didn't really want to be in the picture. He had just done the film Johnny Got His Gun, and that was the kind of role he wanted, not this one. He wasn't part of us; he would come in and do a scene and then be gone. Rumors were, I don't know if they were true, that he was smoking a lot of pot.