Skye Englund, Special to the Mirror
Cloris Leachman, a supremely gifted and versatile actress, was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Mother of five, grandmother of six and now a great-grandmother, she continues working while writing her autobiography. With an Academy Award, nine Emmys and a boatload of other awards, she has conquered Broadway, film and television. After mastering the piano by age 12, she became Miss Chicago in 1946 and the runner-up for Miss America. Perhaps best known for her zany role as Mary Tyler Moore’s neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom and her own spin-off series as Phyllis, many also remember her as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein and Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety. Equally masterful in drama and comedy, she continues to amaze audiences with her audacious characters and fearless freedom of expression.
You were working and living in New York. Why did you decide to relocate to Brentwood?
Well, I came out toward the end of 1954, to be in Kiss Me Deadly directed by Robert Altman. I was four and a half months pregnant with my second baby. I don’t remember much about the movie. I do, however, remember running along the highway all night long. It was bitter cold. I wore only a trench coat. The crew was all wearing parkas and snow boots. I was sure I was going to have a miscarriage. Anyway, my husband George put me on a plane where the seats turned into beds. So, year-old Adam and I slept all the way out to California. I stayed with my mother-in-law Mabel Albertson. George called the next morning after we got there to say that he had been held up in our elevator by two big men with a knife. Mabel wanted to get to know her grandchildren, George wanted to see his mother, and I wanted to see George. So we bought a little house two doors up from Mabel on Beverly Glen for $12,500.
You’ve lived on the Westside now for over 40 years. What is it that has kept you here?
I think my children have enjoyed the Westside with its many privileges. From the beach in Santa Monica to the movies and the many kinds of restaurants. We felt safe here and very grateful for the magnificent days and comfortable nights here on the Westside. Thirty-two of these years we’ve lived in beautiful Mandeville Canyon. Before that in Pat O’Brien’s old house, a beautiful plantation house called Tara. I’m now in a condo with two-story rooms and windows overlooking dozens of acres past the Veterans Administration. The gorgeous eucalyptuses are eight stories high and obtrude anything made by man. The dog park is a block up the street and the Barrington Recreation park is across from me. I’m in heaven.
What are some of your favorite places to visit in town?
Almost every day I have lunch-breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien on Barrington Circle, followed by a decaf soy mocha. Always chatting with the interesting patrons at the big table. I love the crispy rice and tuna at Katsuya down the street from where I live, and the watermelon and cucumber mojito there as well. Vincenti is an excellent evening place, and George’s in Santa Monica is just the best. JiRaffe had a surprising corn soup last night. I love the popcorn and the movies at Laemmle’s on 2nd Street in Santa Monica. As well as restaurants and movie theaters, I enjoy just driving down San Vicente and Sunset Boulevard, which are two thoroughfares that always make me glad to live in LA. San Vicente has the most gorgeous and gigantic coral trees from the ocean east and magnolias on either side. The homes, the trees – this is my town.
Since you moved here you must have seen a lot of changes. What are some that come to mind?
Of course a one-word answer to anything that has changed is cars. There are thousands of more cars. Trees have grown. UCLA has built more parking structures. Hollywood has brightened up its presentation. MGM is now Sony! I remember filming something and the sound department was fighting bravely with the sounds of demolition as Tara from Gone with the Wind was being dismantled. Oh unhappy day. We used to go to Pasadena on Sepulveda and the Ventura Freeway, and now it’s the 405 and the 101. Scandia, a beautiful Swedish restaurant on the Strip, is gone. The Brown Derby – gone! Chasens – gone! The Bistro where Loretta Young screamed out loud when she saw me there – gone. Gone, gone, all gone. And there’s Wilshire Boulevard, with one mighty building after another. Don’t you love the one with green on it? But I can still have a delicious breakfast with the best potatoes you’ve ever had at Early World on San Vicente in Brentwood. Morgan, my fourth son, was a baby when we first went there; he’s now 44 and still the same wonderful potatoes.
Editor’s Note: Englund is Leachman’s second grandchild.