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Monday, January 21, 2008

TV: Suzanne Pleshette and Sam The Butcher Die

In a tough weekend for TV fans, two icons of the tube passed away between Friday and today.
Suzanne Pleshette was best known for playing Emily Hartley, Bob Newhart's smartly sardonic wife on The Bob Newhart Show from 1972-1977. That show elevated the craft of TV sitcoms as surely as All in The Family and Pleshette's intelligence and timing were an integral part of what made the show work.

She had roles on TV, broadway and in films both before and after her years as Emily, but it was The Bob Newhart Show that is her lasting legacy. She starred on Broadway in the 1950s with a young actor named Tom Poston. The two had a brief fling and went about their careers with Poston becoming best-known for Newhart's second sitcom in the 80s, Newhart. In 2000 Pleshette and Poston were married. Poston died late last year.

In what was one of the great surreal TV finales ever, Newhart ended the last episode of his second sitcom by waking up in bed -- next to Emily, his wife from the original show, and recounting the wild dream he'd had. Here is a clip of Pleshette and Newhart riffing on that classic scene:

The other big weekend TV death was character actor Allan Melvin. The name "Sam The Butcher" sounds like something you might call a Nazi war criminal but for those of a certain age it conjures up Melvin's jowly face as The Brady Bunch's favorite purveyor of chops and cold cuts. The Beastie Boys name checked him in their 1989 song "Hey Ladies" -- "I'm like Sam the Butcher bringing Alice the meat..." Indeed Sam's relationship with the Brady's maid Alice was always tantalizingly vague. Melvin was also well-known as Archie Bunker's friend Barney on All in the Family. Here's Melvin from a vintage Liquid Plumb -R ad:

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