Happy Birthday Cloris Leachman: Remembering the Late Hollywood Star’s Best Moments

by Jennifer Shea
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Who could forget Cloris Leachman, the actress who played Mary Richards’ obnoxious but lovable landlady Phyllis Lindstrom on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”? Certainly not fans of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Or fans of “Malcolm in the Middle,” on which she more recently had a recurring role. In fact, by the time she died, Leachman had 287 acting credits to her name.

Leachman died in January of a stroke. According to People, the late star’s battle with COVID-19 was a contributing factor. Leachman died at home in Encinitas, California with her daughter by her side.

The actress had spoken out against eating animals and had been a vegetarian since the 1950s. Upon learning of Leachman’s death, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement mourning the actress.

“It was our honor to present her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts to help animals great and small, from orcas at SeaWorld and elephants in circuses to caged birds in retirement homes, and we will always treasure her legacy of compassion,” the organization said in the statement.

Today, on what would have been Leachman’s 95th birthday, here’s a roundup of some of her best moments.

Cloris Leachman Becomes Mary’s Assistant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

In one classic episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Cloris Leachman plays Phyllis finagling her way into Mary’s office as Mary’s assistant after Phyllis’s husband fires Phyllis as his assistant.

“It’s just not enough for me, being a model wife and perfect mother,” Phyllis tells Mary (Mary Tyler Moore) and Rhoda (Valerie Harper) as she explains why she’s working in Lars’ office. But then Phyllis decides to start treating some of Lars’ – who is a dermatologist – patients on her own.

“I’m available,” she tells Mary and Rhoda later that day. “Lars got a little upset at something I did and he gave me the old sack.”

Phyllis quickly proves problematic as Mary’s assistant, making Mary late to work and cozying up to Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) instead of working for Mary. Finally Mary has to fire Phyllis, who quickly decides Mary got insecure over Phyllis being married and fired her for that reason.

Watch Phyllis cheerfully drive Mary and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner) crazy here:

Phyllis Confronts Her Husband’s Affair on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

In the episode “The Lars Affair,” Cloris Leachman plays a Phyllis made suddenly insecure as her husband slips further away from her and toward another woman.

“Who’s Little Bo Peep?” Phyllis asks upon meeting Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White). But Phyllis soon has reason to take Sue Ann more seriously as she discovers Lars is seeing Sue Ann after meeting her at one of Mary’s infamous parties.

Phyllis then gets into a homemaking competition with Sue Ann, which Phyllis – not much of a chef – handily loses. Finally Phyllis shows up at the station to confront Sue Ann face to face.

“I’m here to talk about you,” Phyllis begins. “And Mary is here to see to it that I don’t rip your face off.”

Phyllis Starts a New Chapter in “Phyllis” Spinoff

In the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff “Phyllis,” Cloris Leachman plays a Phyllis picking up the pieces after her husband Lars died. Phyllis and her daughter Beth move from Minneapolis to San Francisco, which was Phyllis and Lars’ hometown before they moved to Minneapolis, to start anew.

The spinoff lasted from 1975 to 1977 and aired in between another “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff, “Rhoda,” and “All in the Family.” It followed Phyllis’s struggle to find her niche in the job market after spending so many years as the stay-at-home wife of a wealthy dermatologist. “Mary Tyler Moore Show” producer James L. Brooks was a creative consultant to the show.

Watch the pilot episode here:

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