Human Interest

With a combined 175 years in showbiz — not to mention 19 Emmy Awards among the three — Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner and Valerie Harper know how to keep an audience laughing.

They did just that on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Sedona Performing Arts Center before a sold-out crowd. It was part of “Cloris on Comedy,” which kicked off the 23rd annual Sedona International Film Festival. That night Leachman also received the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The event began with Leachman on stage with her daughter Dinah Englund as well as her appearance manager, Mark Rozzano. She discussed the early days of her 70-year career, winning the Miss Chicago pageant and of course, her age.

“I’m 90 [expletive] years old,” she said, which brought one of the biggest applause of the night. “I wasn’t going to say that. I was going to say I was 89.”

She then talked about her longtime friend, Marlon Brando, with whom she said she never dated despite a mutual attraction. One night a group of people went to a Mexican restaurant in Hollywood and the two were seated across from one another.

“I remember him looking at me in such a way that it went to my heart — it pierced my heart,” she said. “I never talked to him again and that was 20 years before his death.”

She was then asked about her working relationship with Mel Brooks [with whom she made three films] and her co-star in “Young Frankenstein,” Gene Wilder.

“Gene was the sweetest, most decent person you’d ever want to know,” she said.

Leachman then discussed her time on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and her character Phyllis. Harper and Asner also starred on that show and all three would eventually have their own spin-offs from it — Leachman in “Phyllis,” Harper in “Rhoda” and Asner in “Lou Grant.”

“We’d always do the best we could but there was never enough time to learn our lines,” she said. “Mary always knew her lines. She was so lovely and wonderful. I remember always going to lunch with Valerie. We would go to lunch because, well, we were hungry.”

Around this time in the event it was announced that they had a surprise for Leachman. That’s when Harper and Asner joined her on stage. Right away, Harper praised her former co-star Harper.

“She is the best,” she said. “She took me by the hand in those early days and helped me so much. I love her for everything she did for me all those years.”

From there the three reminisced about their days on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” In addition, though, they played off one another as if it were 50 years earlier. Leachman and Asner peeked inside each other’s shirt. At one point she got up to answer a question and as she walked in front of Asner, he slapped her on the behind, saying, “Get out of my way, dummy.”

Harper was asked about her bout with cancer five years ago. That started with an exchange between the three that ended in one of the biggest laughs of the night.

“We’re all going to die so you best get ready for it,” Harper said.

“I’m not ready for it,” Leachman answered back.

“Hopefully you go out in a wonderful blaze of copulation,” Asner added to the delight of the crowd.

The night ended with a few questions from the audience. They included one who asked if they had worked with someone who was supposed to be funny but just wasn’t. Harper declined to answer but Asner didn’t shy away from the question.

“Gavin [MacLeod, who played Murray on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’] had a difficult time getting to the point of being funny,” he said. “He was a good actor but wasn’t right for the part of Murray. But over the years he made it right as he became more sympathetic and likeable.”


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