By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Displaying the sass that made her such a great comic actress, Cloris Leachman regaled an audience at Packard Music Hall on Wednesday morning with stories of her richly accomplished life on and off stage.
The 84-year-old Broadway and Hollywood veteran set the tone the moment she strolled on stage. The words on her teleprompter were upside-down, so she “read” them in gibberish with perfect affectation. About 800 attended her 90-minute lecture, which was part of the Trumbull Town Hall series.
Leachman was born in Des Moines, Iowa, but made her way to Broadway early. Highlights of her theater career include playing the lead of Nellie Forbush in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” and playing opposite Katherine Hepburn in “As You Like It.”
She won an Academy Award for her role in “The Last Picture Show” (1971) and also gave an iconic turn as Frau Blucher in the 1974 Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein.” She will star in the 2011 suspense-thriller “The Fields.”
In television, Leachman once was synonymous with the character Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff, “Phyllis,” in the ’70s.
She turned heads in 2008 when, at age 82, she competed on TV’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which she called one of the most exultant times of her life. “Tell the truth — how many of you voted for me?” she asked to a roar of laughter. She is playing Maw-Maw — “the grandmother who has dementia with moments of lucidity,” as she put it — on the Fox sitcom “Raising Hope.”
Leachman is the reigning Emmy champion, with nine awards. “For a while, I was equal with Laurence Olivier at six, but he died, thank God, and I got three more,” she quipped.
The actress also is touring a one-woman show in selected theaters and is working on a reality show. She vowed to keep pressing forward with her career.
In an often-bawdy manner, Leachman — who sat in a comfy chair, a piano to her left, which she played — focused mainly on the glorious early days of her career. But she didn’t skip the hard times, ending with a sorrowful remembrance of her son, Bryan, who died of a drug overdose in 1986.