Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


The best Cloris Leachman story I’ve heard

Cloris Leachman, who died yesterday, was wonderful in everything she appeared in. Including, it seems, real life. Here’s a story that my friend Shanti Reinhardt, an actor and playwright here in Los Angeles, put on Facebook earlier today, posted here with permission.

1984. I was walking to class during Summer Congress at The American Conservatory Theatre. Being from Hawaii, I didn’t quite understand that even if it was “summer” it was freezing in San Francisco. I remained in denial of the weather as I strolled happily along, wearing tiny shorts and a tight T-shirt with my wild curly hair blowing in the wind when suddenly a woman catches up to me from behind and says, “Hi!”

I turn to look and it’s CLORIS LEACHMAN!

How could this be? She was one of my all time favorites. A genius comedienne.

I acted cool. “Hi.”

She walked with me. Cloris: “Where are you going?”

Me: “To class at A.C.T.”

Cloris: “Oh, you’re an actress?”

Me: “Yes.”

Cloris: “I’m an actress too. I’m currently starring in Sister Mary Ignacious Explains it all for You.”

Me: “Oh, my god! I’m working on a monologue from that play!”

Cloris: “Wonderful! Would you like to go out on a date with my son?”

Me: “Huh?”

Cloris: “I saw you from behind with all this positive energy surrounding you — the sunlight bouncing off your hair — and I thought, ‘That’s the kind of gal I want dating my son. He’ll be visiting next week.’ “

Me: “Oh! I’d love to but I’m going to London next week to visit my grandmother who I’ve never met before.”

Cloris: “Oh, how exciting. Well, give me your number and I’ll call you when you return.”

So, I gave her my number and she disappeared.

A few weeks later, I came home to a message on my answering machine. “Hi, it’s Cloris. Be at the ready at 10pm.”

I didn’t know what the term, “Be at the ready” meant. I thought it might have been a restaurant or a club. I call information but they say there is no listing under that name. I usually was asleep by 10pm anyway so I got into PJ’s and crawled into bed.

Sure enough a horn starts beeping outside of my apartment window at 10pm. I open the window to see Cloris standing in front of a stretch limousine yelling up to me, “Hi Shanti! Are you ready? We’re going to have a night on the town!”

Well, the story goes on. The original son she wanted me to go out with was no longer in San Francisco but this was another son she wanted me to meet. He and I had no chemistry but the night was one I’ll never forget as Cloris made an entrance wherever we went.

Years later, I was in a Groundlings class with my teacher Cynthia Szigeti and the assignment was to bring in a character that was a relative. A guy went up before me and started doing his character.

I yelled out, “Wait a minute– are you doing Cloris Leachman?”

The guy was stunned and said, “Yes.” Cynthia was surprised as well, “How did you know that?”

The guy and I looked at each other and then we both realized at the same time, “Oh my god– you’re her son that I had no chemistry with!”

Flight of comedy angels, Cloris! You were the best.

3 Responses to “The best Cloris Leachman story I’ve heard”

  1. Dan Says:

    Damn! Thanks so much for sharing that.

  2. Richie Rich Says:

    Priceless. Sometimes life runs on coincidences.

  3. Marilyn Swan-West Says:

    I had the sheer delight to have a VERY small part in Scavenger Hunt that Cloris Leachman starred in. I played a prostitute. While she sat in the car during the shoot and while the director was working with another actor, she looked over at me and said I had boobs that used to look like that! Oh we need to show those off! She was so funny, she just kept making such a big deal over me. She was so very sweet. I had actually just found out I was pregnant so they were really big.
    I do come from an acting/musical family so to meet her was a great!

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