Stay Close to the Candles

I went to a screening of Raising Hope, the TV series with Cloris Leachman, tonight as part of the SAG Foundation series. I had heard how crazy Cloris is and expected to be weirded out by her, even though I’ve always adored her and loved her work. But, just because an actor is talented and brilliant, it doesn’t mean that in person you are going to like them. If I’ve learned anything over my many years of being in the theatre and around actors, I know talent has nothing to do with amiableness.

Anyway, after the screening, Cloris took the stage, seized the stage, absconded with the stage and left us in a pile of laughter. She told us about the one note Mel Brooks gave her in the staircase and candles scene in Young Frankenstein. He said to raise up her voice slightly on the word “can” to imply there have been accidents before.

“Stay close to the candles, the stairs CAN be treacherous.”

Her reading was perfect and hysterical. She said they had to do 17 takes because Gene Wilder kept laughing to the point that before she even turned around, she could tell he was laughing. She couldn’t tell if it was because she was so funny, or because he wrote the line and was laughing at his own humor. I think it was her reading. She told many more fun stories and then she pointed to a lovely young woman in the audience and beckoned her to join her on stage. After some cajoling, she acquiesced. She turned out to be her granddaughter. Cloris asked her to sing for us. Every grandchilds worst nightmare. But, she gave in. And she was stunning, with a simple and rich voice singing a haunting tune that obviously moved her grandmother. It was such a personal and sweet moment shared with a smallish group of about 50 actors.

People asked questions and each time, Cloris would ask them to stand up and say their names, until one guy said he couldn’t stand because he was in a wheelchair. Without flinching, she said, “well then speak up so everyone can hear you.” He asked if she recognized him. At first she didn’t and then she protested he couldn’t be Dick, he was in Florida, but it was him. Richard Schaal. He had been on her show Phyllis and in a stage production of Same Time Next Year with Cloris. She came down off the stage and talked with him for awhile. It was very moving. They had lots of catching up to do.

The thing about Cloris that moved me to write was how in the moment she was. Unafraid to be silly or odd. She was genuine, gracious and enjoying every moment. I don’t know if it’s because she’s always been that way, or if it’s because she’s 85 and she is grateful for every day. But her love, humor and humanity shown through and I felt it. And now I really adore her, for her.

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