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Frau power: an interview with Cloris Leachman

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Great Gam Gam

On Fri, Feb. 17 Academy Award-winner Cloris Leachman will kick-off the 23rd annual Sedona International Film Festival with a live presentation and Q&A at the Sedona Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m. Many may recognize her for her roles as Great Gam Gam in 2006’s Beer Fest or Maw Maw in the TV series Raising Hope, but her filmography goes way beyond that. Recently, Flag Live had the chance to ask Leachman, now 90, a few questions. Learn more about her visit to Sedona and the fest all around at

Erin Shelley: You’ve had a long career in television. Your first television job was in The Ford Theatre Hour in 1948. You also appeared in multiple television shows like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, and The Donna Reed Show during the 1950s and early ’60s.

Cloris Leachman: I did a lot of live television in those early days. That was always an adventure. I’ve won more Emmy Awards than any other actress on TV … those roles are my favorites (laughing).

You became a household name with your role of Phyllis Lindstrom in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and in the spin-off series Phyllis. This success happened when you were in your 40s. What kept you working as an actor all of those years before this big success?

I enjoy working and acting so I just kept looking for good roles to play.

Your film career took off in the 1970s and you won a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for your heartbreaking role in The Last Picture Show. How did that feel after the many years you worked as an actor?

I was so surprised the night of the Oscars. I never expected to win … but I sure was glad that I did. I still tell Peter [Bogdanovich, the director] I could have done even better in that last scene in Picture Show, but he didn’t want to reshoot it. He used the first take.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein. Was it as much fun to film as we imagine?

Gene [Wilder] and I laughed all through filming Young Frankenstein. One scene with Frau Blücher on the stairs took 14 takes because Gene was laughing so hard each time. Gene was one-of-a-kind. I miss him.

Your latest movie, The Comedian is showing at the Sedona International Film Festival. What did you like about your role in this film?

My character in The Comedian has a fictitious Friars Club roast at the end of the movie. It’s worth the wait.  She’s a great character who says exactly what’s on her mind … just like me.

You will be appearing on Friday evening for a special pre-festival kickoff event, “Cloris on Comedy: An Evening with Cloris Leachman.” As one of the funniest women in television, what do you attribute to your success in comedy?

It starts with good writing!


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