‘Raising Hope’ Creator Greg Garcia Remembers “One of A Kind” Cloris Leachman

Television legend Cloris Leachman, who died Tuesday at the age of 94, earned the last of her whopping 22 Emmy nominations for her role as the larger-than-life Maw Maw on Greg Garcia’s 2010 family comedy Raising Hope.

Originally conceived as a guest-starring role, Leachman’s Maw Maw, the occasionally lucid, often confused unpredictable great-great-grandmother to Hope, was an instant fan favorite, and Leachman was upped to a series regular in Season 2. She was a main cast member of the praised Fox comedy for three seasons in her last series regular role. (She later guest starred on Garcia’s follow-up series, CBS’ The Millers.)

Garcia had a memorable first meeting with Leachman on the stage of the 2006 Emmy Awards where the eight-time Emmy-winning actress presented him with the comedy writing Emmy for his NBC series My Name Is Earl. As she has done her entire career, Leachman stole the scene, and Garcia shared the video on Twitter following the news of her death today. He also tweeted a tribute, accompanied by a photo of Leachman licking the back of his neck (you see that and the Emmy Awards video under the post).

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Bellow, Garcia remembers how he cast Leachman in Raising Hope, her on-set hijinks, including the story behind that neck-licking photo, and his last meeting with her.

When I wrote the pilot for the show Raising Hope, there was a character named Maw Maw, who had no lines. The character simply walked around the house in a bra eating pickles out of a jar. Almost as a joke I said, “I wonder if we could get Cloris Leachman to do it.” I didn’t know her, except for meeting her briefly on stage at the Emmys a few years before, so we submitted the script through her agent. The next thing I knew, she was calling me on the phone to tell me she was in.

I couldn’t believe it. I promised to write some actual dialogue for the character, but she told me not to touch a thing. She thought it was funny the way it was.

We shot the pilot and she stole the show. As we produced the first season, instead of waiting in her trailer for her scenes, she would make it a habit of sitting next to me at the monitors. She would tell me hilarious stories I can’t repeat, give me unsolicited notes on the script, ask me why the hell the director was wearing shorts, and constantly sneak up behind me and lick my neck. Yes, lick my neck. In fact, one day I sprayed something called Bitter Apple on my neck as a joke to see if she would notice. (Bitter Apple is a foul-tasting spray you put on your furniture to dissuade dogs from chewing it.) I saw Cloris sneaking up behind me and, as she licked the back of my neck, she quickly yanked her head back. I turned to see that she had a sour look on her face. I asked her if everything was okay and she simply said, “You taste a little afternoony.” I confessed what I had done and, as a punishment, she proceeded to lick the rest of it off as I screamed.

With all her on-set antics (which I loved), it would be easy to discount Cloris as a bit of a nut. And she was a bit of a nut, most of the great ones are. However, beyond that, she was brilliant and, as much as she made me laugh, I also learned from her. She would always be looking for ways to make things more interesting, funnier, and more original. So when Cloris had a suggestion, I would always stop what I was doing and listen. She would also be open to my crazy ideas as well. In season two, I had the idea to change her credit to “And Introducing Cloris Leachman.” Always up for a laugh, she loved it.

Last Christmas, I was lucky enough to spend some time with her. She grabbed me by the hand and we picked up right where we left off. With her saying hilarious things and me loving every minute of it.

May we all live to be ninety-four years old and have the kind of amazing life Cloris had. Surrounded by friends and a loving family. She was one of a kind. A true legend. I loved her and I’ll miss her very much.

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