Robrt L. Pela pays, uh, respect to the great Cloris Leachman

I used to know a crazy lady who looked exactly like Cloris Leachman.

Ella was the kind of crazy that can never be cured; the kind of crazy that struck fear in the hearts of her friends and family, that caused former employees to change their telephone numbers after she fired them because she'd call to say, "Let's have lunch!" only days after having told them she hoped they died in a fiery plane crash or refusing to grant their request for unemployment insurance.

Ella liked to go off her antipsychotic medication from time to time "just to see what would happen." What happened was that Ella began throwing things. She shouted and put curses on people and sacked employees whose work she'd exclaimed over only the day before. I once stood in the doorway of her office while Ella threw a tantrum because she was tired of not being a man. When the guy in the office next door asked why she wanted to be a man, Ella hit him with her shoe.

Because things ended badly (how else?) between us, I've gone for nearly two decades unable to watch any film or television show in which Cloris Leachman appeared. Leachman typically plays oddballs, and the combination of Leachman's lovely face and her nutbox performances reminded me of crazy Ella, whom I was devoted to forgetting. It was a shame, because I really like Cloris Leachman, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in The Last Picture Show and who wowed several generations with her delightful Mary Tyler Moore Show character, Phyllis Lindstrom.

I tried, once, to watch Leachman on The New Twilight Zone not long after Ella threw me out of her office when I laughed at her suggestion that we sleep together. ("Ella!" I remember shouting through her closed door, "I'm gay and I have a boyfriend!" I figured that not adding, "Plus you're twice my age and you look like Phyllis Lindstrom!" would have saved me, but I was mistaken.) I made it only to the first commercial break before switching the TV off.

My break from Cloris had its upside. I missed her late-'80s role as Charlotte Rae's replacement in television's The Facts of Life; her turn as Granny in the movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies; and her appearance in the box office bomb My Boyfriend's Back, in which she played someone called Maggie the Zombie Expert.

That was all a very long time ago, and now that I've finally shaken the memory of Ella (thanks in good part to my new friend Catherine, a much more pleasant doppelganger for Cloris Leachman), I'm looking forward to getting caught up on my Cloris with her one-woman show, which she's workshopping in Tempe before taking it out on tour. I'll get to see some of the performances I missed, because I've read that in Cloris!, Leachman revives several of her better-known characters from recent films and television. I want to say I won't even be thinking of Ella while I listen to Cloris Leachman talk about her life, but that doesn't seem likely. Here's hoping La Leachman doesn't throw any shoes.

 
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