The Last Picture Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
Malcolm in the Middle
Cloris Leachman gave stellar, memorable performances in them all, and that’s just the shortlist of her decades-long career. Unlike most of her colleagues, Leachman – who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 94 – didn’t start achieving her biggest successes until the 1970s, when she was already in her 40s. Always wholly embodying the character, she was one of the rare actors who made the job look effortless. Particularly known for her straight-faced comedic roles, she had perfect timing and delivered each line with authenticity.
Which leads me to my favorite Cloris Leachman role ever: “Great Gam Gam” in 2006’s Broken Lizard comedy, Beerfest.
I was 16 when the movie came out and didn’t end up watching it until college. Having grown up in a household where Blockbuster was part of every Saturday and the Oscars were more important than the Super Bowl, Beerfest was not at all my first introduction to Leachman – I laughed at Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein frequently over the years.
But Beerfest is without a doubt where I realized that this woman was special. At 80 years old, Leachman positively lit up the screen as Great Gam Gam, yet at the same time she was a team player who expertly avoided eating up the scene. As the great grandmother of the main characters who is primarily there for encouragement, it’s the kind of role that easily could have stayed a mere plot device. But Leachman brought Gam Gam vividly to life via seamless delivery of kind-yet-stern advice and supposedly innocent double entendres. Her energy throughout seemed to be contagious for the rest of the cast, and I must say, her German accent stayed consistent.
If you haven’t seen it, the buddy-drinking comedy is one of those gloriously dumb movies where everyone making it was clearly there to have fun rather than go for any awards or establish themselves among Hollywood’s elite. It’s the kind of movie you laugh with rather than at. I laugh with the sheer stupidity. I laugh with the gross-out scenes and socially offensive humor (2006 was a different time indeed). I laugh with Great Gam Gam.
Beerfest is not an objectively good movie, but Leachman gave it life.
And if there was one thing that stood out more than the humor, it was Great Gam Gam’s constant stoicism:
“We are not so different, you and I. I’ve had all kinds of things shoved up my ass. I got over it. You will, too.”
Rest In Peace, Cloris Leachman. And thank you forever for that sausage scene.