Good Night, Emily

Susanne Pleshette and Tom Poston were at a TCA press party a few years ago, standing on the back lawn of the Ritz Carlton in Pasadena like they owned the place; maybe they did.

The two first met in 1959 when they appeared together in a Broadway play called “The Golden Fleecing.” They had a brief fling before moving on and marrying other people. (Pleshette was briefly married to teen heartthrob Troy Donahue before a happy, 31-year union with businessman Tom Gallagher. Poston was married–twice–to Kay Hudson; that union also spanned 30 years.)
When they both found each other widowed in 2000, they reunited and got married the following year–more than 40 years after first hooking up. I remember seeing them arm in arm together at that TCA party as word spread from critic to critic–“Hey, did you know those two were married?” It just seemed so perfect, like something that would and could only happen on television. You gotta hand it to people who know how to cast their own happy ending.
Both, of course, were linked professionally to Bob Newhart, with Pleshette unforgettable as his sardonic wife Emily in his hilarious ’70s series. Poston, one of Steve Allen’s zany “Man on the Street” players back in the original, ’50s version of The Tonight Show, played a handyman in Newhart’s ’80s comedy.
Pleshette returned to that show for the best finale in the history of television. In it, Bob, playing innkeeper Dick Loudon, wakes up next to Pleshette’s Emily, his wife from the first series. The entire, eight season long second series, we are led to believe, was all a bad dream. As The New York Times points out today, The Onion goofed on this unforgettable TV moment in a fake 1999 headline: “Universe Ends As God Wakes Up Next To Suzanne Pleshette.”
Pleshette told critics several years ago she could hear the studio audience tittering as she hid under the blankets; they were clueing in as they started to recognize the old familiar set. “They were laughing at the wallpaper,” she said.
We all wanted to wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette. There was always something very adult and adulteress about her. Her perfectly symmetrical face and pretty green eyes were one thing, but it was her husky voice and snappy attitude that put you away.
I collect old 16mm films and have a copy of “40 Pounds of Trouble,” a cute little time waster she did in 1961 with Tony Curtis. It was Norman Jewison’s first film. When I met him a few years ago and mentioned I owned a print of his first film he begged me to burn it. Sorry, Norman, it’s worth holding on to just to see the two stars run around a new little theme park called Disneyland. That and for Pleshette, who is just so damn deliciously beautiful. I’d gush a little more but I gotta go thred the projector.
Pleshette died Saturday in Los Angeles; she was 70. Poston died last April, he was 85. They were like family and they will be missed.
Another familiar TV face–and voice–passed away on the weekend. Allan Melvin, who, like Poston, worked steadily over five decades of television, died at 84.
Again, I own him on film. He was one of Rob Petrie’s army buddies on The Dick Van Dyke Show. (I’ve got the one where he is the corner man for Camp Crowder boxing ace “Pitter-Patter Petrie.”) He played a memorable army pal on Phil Silver’s ’50s comedy You’ll Never Get Rich and, later in the ’60s, Gomer Pyle USMC.
Melvin was everywhere in the ’70s, including All In The Family and Archie Bunker’s Place. Brady Bunch fans will remember him as Sam the Butcher. He even worked such Saturday morning oddities as H.R. Pufnstuff and The Banana Splits.
In between he voiced countless cartoon characters, including Magilla Gorilla, one of the lamest Hanna-Barbera efforts ever. I know ’cause, yes, I also have a print of that on 16. You can never collect too much Melvin.
Again, one of those faces you never forget.

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