As She Likes It: Talking with Cloris Leachman

The veteran actress schools us on career choices, Dancing with the Stars, and where she keeps her twelve million awards.

Cloris Leachman
Cloris Leachman
© Courtesy of PBS

She’s been awarded an Oscar, eight prime-time Emmy awards, one daytime Emmy, and one Golden Globe. Yet, all 83-year-old Cloris Leachman wanted to do on stage at the recent PBS Pioneers of Television event was playfully unbutton Aussie actor Bryan Brown’s shirt.

These antics work well for this veteran actress onstage, but offstage she got candid about choosing serious over sexy, live television vs. theater, and gave us truly off-the-cuff answers to our rapid-fire questions.

You were in two well-known plays: South Pacific and Come Back, Little Sheba

I did a production of [Little Sheba] in Westport, Connecticut. We opened it there and it was a huge smash hit and we were bringing it into Broadway that fall. I was told that Katherine Hepburn wanted me to read for As You Like It, which she was going to do on Broadway that fall. I read for Celia and she wanted me, so I had to decide. And really, it was a career decision because the part in Little Sheba was a sexy high school girl and football player. I mean, sex city! … I had to decide to be a sexy girl for Hollywood or a serious actress. I don’t like the word serious, but to do meaningful things and not get stuck in a sexual … well that area where you only get those [parts].

Live television in the 1950s … how was that compared to theater?

Having an audience is always wonderful. I was never nervous or frightened. Live television – they would count down 5,4,3 … [and] I’d be thinking about my boyfriend, `Should I marry him?’ I was always thinking about somebody instead of [what] I was about to do.

It was easy for me and fun. I wasn’t frightened and I was very grateful. Some people used to throw up every time they performed live. It was torture for them. I don’t think I could have gone through that.

Dancing With the Stars?

I really loved it. I loved everybody associated with it. We just had a wonderful time. We were so cared for. Anything that happened was already premeditated and handled. There was never a problem. And I love dancing anyway, the world of dance.

Raging Bull II?

I [would] play a girlfriend of his mother [in the movie]…I understand, it’s nothing that was in Raging Bull with Robert DeNiro…this starts when Jake LaMotta was 15, to way past his fighting years. I think it’s an exciting picture with its own personality.

Alfred Hitchcock?

Never met him.

We heard you keep your Oscar in the bathroom–

No, never did.

Where do you keep it?

I bought a condominium and there was a loft above and I built a counter from one wall to the other wall. I have nine Emmys and a Golden Globe and an Oscar. They all fit perfectly there.