Eileen Brennan

Eileen Brennan

Born: September 3, 1932
Died: July 28, 2013 (at age 80)
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Verla Eileen Regina Brennan (née Brennen; September 3, 1932 - July 28, 2013)[1] was an American film, stage, and television actress. She made her film debut in the satire Divorce American Style (1967), followed by a supporting role in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), which earned her a BAFTA award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

She gained further critical acclaim for her role as Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She reprised the role for the TV adaptation, winning both a Golden Globe and Emmy for her performance. Brennan also starred in the mystery comedy Clue (1985), and had a minor role in the horror film Jeepers Creepers (2001).

Brennan also worked prolifically in television, receiving Emmy nominations for her guest-starring roles on Newhart, Thirtysomething, Taxi and Will & Grace.

Brennan was born Verla Eileen Regina Brennen[2][3] on September 3, 1932[4] in Los Angeles, California, daughter of Regina "Jeanne" Menehan, a silent film actress, and John Gerald Brennen, a doctor.[5] Of Irish descent, she was raised Roman Catholic.

After graduating from high school in California, Brennan relocated to Washington, D.C., to attend Georgetown University, where she was a member of the Mask and Bauble Society.[6][7] She later relocated to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she was a roommate of Rue McClanahan.[8]


Early work and theatre

Brennan in a 1963 publicity photo

Brennan began her acting career while attending university, appearing in Georgetown's stage productions of Arsenic and Old Lace. Her exceptional comic skills and romantic soprano voice propelled her from unknown to star in the title role of Rick Besoyan's off-Broadway tongue-in-cheek musical/operetta Little Mary Sunshine (1959),[7] earning Brennan an Obie Award, and its unofficial sequel The Student Gypsy (1963), on Broadway.[9]

She played Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker at the 1961 Central City, Colorado, Festival, directed by Arthur Penn, who had just won a Tony for his direction of the play on Broadway.[10] She went on to create the role of Irene Molloy in the original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! (1964).[11]

Brennan's work in theatre attracted attention from television producers in California. Carl Reiner, who was seeking an actress to play the role of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, flew her from New York to Los Angeles to audition for the part; however, the role was given to Mary Tyler Moore.[12]

Transition to film

Her feature film debut was in Divorce American Style (1967). She soon became one of the most recognizable (if not precisely identifiable) supporting actresses in film and television. Her roles were usually sympathetic characters, though she played a variety of other character types, including earthy, vulgar, and sassy, but occasionally "with a heart of gold". A year after her feature-film debut, she became a semiregular on the comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, but stayed for only two months.

Although her name was not often recognized by the general public, she became a favorite of many directors, in particular Peter Bogdanovich. She appeared in Bogdanovich's 1971 drama The Last Picture Show as Genevieve, for which she received a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress.[13]

In 1972, Brennan appeared in an All In The Family episode, "The Elevator Story" (1972), as Angelique McCarthy, followed by a role as brothel madam Billie in George Roy Hill's Academy Award-winning 1973 film The Sting as the confidante of con man Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman). In 1974, she reunited with director Bogdanovich, appearing in his adaptation of the Henry James novella Daisy Miller. Bogdanovich was the only director who made use of her musical talents (before, she sang in performances off Broadway) when he cast her as Cybill Shepherd's crude, fun-loving maid in his 1975 musical flop At Long Last Love (which also starred Madeline Kahn; Brennan and Kahn worked together in two more films: The Cheap Detective and Clue).

Brennan also worked with director Robert Moore and writer Neil Simon, appearing in Murder by Death as Tess Skeffington (1976); and The Cheap Detective (1978). Both of these movies also starred James Coco, James Cromwell, and Peter Falk. She had a starring role, playing the disc jockey Mutha in the 1978 movie, FM, a comedy-drama about life at a rock-music radio station.

In 1980, Brennan received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Goldie Hawn's nasty commanding officer in Private Benjamin. She reprised the role in the television adaptation (1981-1983), for which she won an Emmy (supporting actress) as well as a Golden Globe (lead actress). She had one additional Golden Globe nomination and six Emmy nominations. Brennan received an Emmy nomination for her guest-starring role in Taxi episode "Thy Boss's Wife" (1981).

Later roles

In the 1990s, she appeared in Stella with Bette Midler, Bogdanovich's Texasville (the sequel to The Last Picture Show), and Reckless. She had a recurring role on the sitcom Blossom as the neighbor/confidante of the title character. She also appeared opposite Vincent D'Onofrio in a segment of Boys Life 2, an anthology film about gay men in America.[14]

In 2001, she made a brief appearance in the horror movie Jeepers Creepers, and the following year starred in the dark comedy film Comic Book Villains, with DJ Qualls. In recent years, Brennan had guest-starred in television, including recurring roles as the nosy Mrs. Bink in 7th Heaven and as gruff acting coach Zandra on Will & Grace. In 2003, director Shawn Levy cast her in a cameo role of a babysitter to Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt's children in an updated remake of Cheaper by the Dozen. Levy was inspired to cast Brennan after seeing Private Benjamin on television. Brennan's cameo was deleted from the actual cut of the movie, however. Nonetheless, she did receive credit for her role on the deleted scenes special feature of the film's DVD. In 2004, she appeared in The Hollow as Joan Van Etten.

Brennan guest-starred on two Murder, She Wrote episodes, "Old Habits Die Hard" (1987) and "Dear Deadly" (1994), and in 1987, she also appeared in the Magnum, P.I. episode "The Love That Lies". Brennan was nominated for an Emmy in 2004 for her performance as Zandra,[15] Jack McFarland's caustic drama teacher, on Will and Grace.

Personal life

From 1968 to 1974, Brennan was married to British poet and photographer David John Lampson, with whom she had two sons: Patrick, a former basketball player turned actor, and Sam, a singer.[7]

Brennan was hit by a passing car in 1982 in Venice Beach while leaving a restaurant with Goldie Hawn, and suffered massive injuries.[7] She took three years off work to recover, and had to overcome a subsequent addiction to painkillers.[16] She also fell from the stage in 1989 during a production of Annie, breaking a leg.[17] The following year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she successfully treated.[17]


Brennan died at her home in Burbank, California, on July 28, 2013, of bladder cancer.[18] She was 80. Her Private Benjamin costar Goldie Hawn said she was a "brilliant comedian, a powerful dramatic actress and had the voice of an angel."[19] Actor, writer, and director Michael McKean, Brennan's co-star in Clue, called Brennan "a brilliant actress, a tough and tender woman and a comic angel".[18]



Year Title Role Notes
1967 Divorce American Style Eunice Tase
1971 The Last Picture Show Genevieve Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1973 Scarecrow Darlene
1973 The Blue Knight Glenda Television film
1973 The Sting Billie
1974 Nourish the Beast Baba Goya Television Film
1974 Daisy Miller Mrs. Walker
1975 At Long Last Love Elizabeth
1975 Hustle Paula Hollinger
1976 Murder by Death Tess Skeffington
1977 The Death of Richie Carol Werner Television film
1977 The Great Smokey Roadblock Penelope Pearson
1978 FM Mother
1978 The Cheap Detective Betty DeBoop
1979 When She Was Bad... Mary Jensen Television film
1979 My Old Man Marie Television film
1980 Private Benjamin Captain Doreen Lewis Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1981 When the Circus Came to Town Jessy Television film
1982 Pandemonium Candy's mom
1983 The Funny Farm Gail Corbin
1985 Clue Mrs. Peacock
1986 Babes in Toyland Ms. Piper / Widow Hubbard
1988 The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking Miss Bannister Nominated—Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1988 Sticky Fingers Stella
1988 Rented Lips Hotel Desk Clerk
1988 Going to the Chapel Maude
1989 It Had to Be You Judith
1990 Stella Mrs. Wilkerson
1990 Texasville Genevieve Morgan
1990 White Palace Judy
1991 Joey Takes a Cab
1992 I Don't Buy Kisses Anymore Frieda
1995 Reckless Sister Margaret
1996 If These Walls Could Talk Tessie Segment "1996"
1997 Boys Life 2 Mrs. Randozza (segment "Nunzio's Second Cousin")
1997 Changing Habits Mother Superior
1998 Pants on Fire Mom
1999 The Last Great Ride Pamela Mimi Mackensie
2000 Moonglow
2001 Jeepers Creepers The Cat Lady
2002 Comic Book Villains Miss Cresswell
2003 Dumb Luck Minnie Hitchcock
2003 Cheaper by the Dozen Mrs. Drucker Scenes deleted
2004 The Hollow Ms. Etta
2005 Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous Carol Fields
2009 The Kings of Appletown Coach's blind mother
2010 Naked Run Gram Malone


Year Title Role Notes
1967 NET Playhouse Unknown Episode: "Infancy and Childhood"
1968 Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In Performer 12 episodes
1970 The Ghost and Mrs. Muir Paula Tardy Episode: "Ladies' Man"
1970 The Most Deadly Game Alice Episode: "Photo Finish"
1972 All in the Family Angelique McCarthy Episode: "The Elevator Story"
1972 McMillan & Wife Dora Episode: "Night of the Wizard"
1973 Jigsaw Unknown Episode: "In Case of an Emergency, Notify Clint Eastwood"
1975 Barnaby Jones Anita Willson Episode: "Blood Relations"
1975 Kojak Julie Loring Episode: "A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves"
1975 Insight Carol Harris Episode: "The Prodigal Father"
1979 13 Queens Boulevard Felicia Winters 9 episodes
1979-1980 A New Kind of Family Kit Flanagan 11 episodes
1981 Taxi Mrs. McKenzie Episode: "Thy Boss's Wife"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
1981-1983 Private Benjamin Captain Doreen Lewis 37 episodes
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Musical or Comedy
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Television Series Musical or Comedy
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
1982 American Playhouse Millworker Episode: "Working"
1984 The Love Boat Helen Foster 2 episodes
1984-1985 Off the Rack Kate Hollaran 7 episodes
1987 Magnum P.I. Brenda Babcock Episode: "The Love That Lies"
1987 Murder, She Wrote Mariam Simpson Episode: "Old Habits Die Hard"
1988 CBS Summer Playhouse Sioban Owens Episode: "Off Duty"
1988-1989 Newhart Corinne Denby 2 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
1990 The Ray Bradbury Theater Mrs. Annabelle Shrike Episode: "Touched with Fire"
1991 Blossom Agnes 3 episodes
1991 thirtysomething Margaret Weston Episode: "Sifting the Ashes"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1992 Home Improvement Wanda Episode: "Heavy Meddle"
1993 Tribeca Claudia Episode: "Stepping Back"
1993 Jack's Place Dina Episode: "The Hands of Time"
1993 Bonkers Lilith DuPrave 4 episodes
1993 Tales from the Crypt Ruth Sanderson Episode: "Til Death Do We Part"
1993 All-New Dennis the Menace Voice 13 episodes
1994 Murder, She Wrote Loretta Lee Episode: "Dear Deadly"
1995 Walker, Texas Ranger Joelle Episode: "Mean Streets"
1995 Thunder Alley Irma Episode: "Are We There Yet?"
1996 ER Betty 2 episodes
1996-2006 7th Heaven Gladys Bink 9 episodes
1997 Veronica's Closet Grammy Anderson Episode: "Veronica's First Thanksgiving"
1998 Nash Bridges Loretta Bettina Episode: "Downtime"
1998 Mad About You Inspector #10 Episode: "Cheating on Sheila"
1999 Touched by an Angel Dolores Episode: "The Last Day of the Rest of Your Life"
2000 The Fearing Mind Irene's mother Episode: "Gentleman Caller"
2001-2006 Will & Grace Zandra 6 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2003 Lizzie McGuire Marge Episode: "My Fair Larry"
2003 Strong Medicine Evelyn Knightly Episode: "Coming Clean"

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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