Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Suzanne Pleshette & "The Honeymoon Machine"

Suzanne Pleshette's death on Saturday, January 19th prompted an immediate wave of love letters from the media, all of them exceedingly well-deserved - and there's not much more that I can add to the mix.

Like everyone else, I was seduced by her husky voice and dark, smokey good looks.

Unlike most admirers, however, I could never quite understand why Alfred Hitchcock was the only director who seemed to know what to do with her. (See "The Birds.") My immediate impression is that Pleshette's natural sexuality intimidated directors and scared the bejesus out of male moviegoers.

Otherwise, it's curious that she didn't bloom into "the next Natalie Wood," which is obviously what Jack Warner had in mind for her when he signed her to an exclusive contract in the early 1960s. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Warners has the same exact problem with Mimsy Farmer during the same period.)

Like Lois Nettleton, who died the day before her, Pleshette ended up on television, most notably on "The Bob Newhart Show," and it was in this medium that she became reaquainted with Tom Poston, with whom she had starred on Broadway in 1959 in Lorenzo Semple, Jr.'s antic comedy, "The Golden Fleecing," directed by Abe Burrows.

The play wasn't a tremendous hit (84 performances, running from October 15 to December 26 at the Henry Miller Theater), but it was likable enough for MGM to buy the rights and produce a film verson, retitled "The Honeymoon Machine," directed in 1961 by Richard Thorpe.

Neither Poston nor Pleshette was recruited to recreate their roles, however. They went to Steve McQueen and Pleshette-lookalike Brigid Bazlen. (And whatever happened to her?) The popular MGM team Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton, plus Jack Weston, had supporting roles. This most companionable little film has become something of a Turner Classics staple in recent years, and it's not hard to imagine Poston and Pleshette in the McQueen-Bazlen roles.

Anyway, "The Honeymoon Machine," which naturally went unmentioned in all of Pleshette's obits, provides a kind of lefthanded footnote to her career and her life: She and Poston married in May of 2001, a little more than 40 years after they first met in "The Golden Fleecing," and they remained married until his death in 2007.

Note in Passing: Pleshette's first marriage was, of course, to Troy Donahue, her leading man on her first film for Warners, Delmer Daves' "Rome Adventure" (1962), based on Irving Finerman's novel. (She played Prudence Bell.) In-between Donahue and Poston, she was married to businessman Tom Gallagher for more than 30 years.

(Artwork: The inimitable Suzanne Pleshette in a vintage shot from her Warner Bros./starlet days and poster art for MGM's "The Honeymoon Machine")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


Anonymous said...

Nice bit of trivia, re "The Honeymoon Machine." Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nice bit of trivia, re "The Honeymoon Machine." Thanks!

cjKennedy said...

Nice remembrance Joe.

Even with her limited screen time, she made a strong impression in The Birds. Enough that you wish she'd been given more to do on the big screen.

j kaiser said...

I'll just miss that voice.

joe baltake said...

Yes, that voice and her natural sauciness. She should have been a major movie star but came along at the wrong time - the end of the studio system. Sad.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed a comment I read in one of the tributes in which she said of herself that she got every role by walking out of a room - the view from behind. Not only was she sexy, but she was aware of it in a very confident and utterly sexy lowkey way.

Anonymous said...

I belong to a generation of American men whose adolescence was marked in the happiest way by Suzanne Pleshette's weekly presence on TV as Bob Newhart's wife. At an age when none of us had the slightest clue, she gave us our first hint of what grown-up, intelligent female sexuality looked like. For which I suspect all of us will always be grateful.

And in that same vein, I'd suggest that her best "role" may have been the many, many appearances she made over the decades on "The Tonight Show." The witty, sexy banter between her and Johnny Carson was exactly what she should have gotten the chance to do in movies. The studio heads may have been oblivious, but thankfully Johnny understood.