Saturday, January 22, 2022

Brett Somers


"You know, I'm a television personality.  It's not like I'm a famous hooker or something!"

Brett Somers was born Audrey Dawn Johnston in New Brunswick, Canada on July 11, 1924. As a young girl, she moved with her family to Portland, Maine, before leaving home at 18 and heading to New York City.

Intent on making it in show business, she changed her name, borrowing "Brett" from the Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises.  Somers was in fact her mother's maiden name.

When she was 24, Somers married businessman Robert Klein. They would divorce shortly thereafter, but not before producing one child, Leslie Klein.

When the marriage ended, Somers decided to focus on her career.  She joined The Actors Studio in 1952 and soon found work on television, appearing on many popular shows of the day, including Playhouse 90 and Kraft Television Theatre.

Then in 1953, Somers remarried, this time to actor Jack Klugman (right).  He proved to be Somers biggest fan, often convincing producers to find roles for her in various productions. Once Klugman was firmly established as Oscar Madison on The Odd Couple, he convinced producers to hire Somers in the role of Blanche, Madison's ex-wife, who made frequent appearances on the series.  Here's a clip.

Klugman went to bat for his wife once again in 1973, when he was asked to appear as a panelist on the popular series Match Game. He convinced producers to put Brett on the show as well, and the rest, as they say, is history.  With her dry wit and risque banter, she was a very popular panelist, and often matched wits with fellow regular Charles Nelson Reilly.  The two remained on the series together for the next nine years.  Here's a compilation of some of her best zingers.

After nearly twenty years of marriage and two children, Klugman and Somers separated in 1974.  Where it went from there, I cannot confirm, as the internet is a bevy of misinformation.  Some sources state that the two were divorced in 1977.  Others state that they remained married, albeit estranged, until Somers' death in 2007.  Cue the Unsolved Mysteries theme song.

Somers continued acting throughout the 1970s, appearing on such series as Battlestar Galactica (left), The Love Boat and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  Her final television acting role was in a 1980 episode of Chips.

When Match Game came to an end in the early 1980s, Somers returned to New York and live theatre.  She would pop up on television from time to time, on such shows as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and a short-lived revival of Match Game in 1990.  She appeared on several talk shows as well, including The Mike Douglas Show and Maury Povich.  No, Povich did not give Somers a DNA test, as his show was relatively legit back in the day.  Here's a clip

By the late 1990s, Somers' health was in decline.  In 2004, she'd be diagnosed with cancer, and spent most of her time at home in Westport, Connecticut.  She ultimately died of stomach and colon cancer on September 15, 2007.  She was 83 years old.

Brett Somers was cremated and her ashes were buried in the Memorial Garden of the Unitarian Church in Westport.

Blank in peace, Brett.

  • Somers made her Broadway debut in a 1958 show called Maybe Tuesday.  The production opened on a Wednesday and closed after only five performances.  Ironically, it didn't make it to Tuesday.

  • Jack Klugman was also profiled here at Six Feet Under Hollywood.

  • In 2002, Somers reunited with Charles Nelson Reilly for "Game Show Week" on The Hollywood Squares, hosted by Tom Bergeron.  Here's a clip.

  • Somers was preceded in death by her daughter Leslie, who died of lung cancer in 2003.

  • In 2006, Somers appeared in the Game Show Network documentary The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank.  You can watch it in its entirety on YouTube.

  • Shortly before her death, Somers became an American citizen.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Wendie Jo Sperber


"I'm an actress who likes to say something funny.  Everybody laughs and your job is done."

Wendie Jo Sperber was born in Hollywood, California on September 15, 1958.  During her high school years, she developed an interest in the performing arts, later attending drama workshops at California State University, Northridge. 

She began her acting career in 1978, appearing in the Robert Zemeckis film I Wanna Hold Your Hand (see Trivia below).  Of her performance, Entertainment Weekly said she was "a screaming Beatlemaniac who, among other things, climbed through elevator shafts."  That same year, she had an uncredited role as a dancer in the John Travolta blockbuster Grease.  Most impressively that year however, she starred in the title role of the ABC Afterschool Special (remember those) Dinky Hocker.  You can watch the episode in its entirety on YouTube.  This blogger gives the film two thumbs up.

In 1979, Sperber appeared in the Steven Spielberg film 1941.  Although the movie was a theatrical flop, Sperber became close friends with Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who would later cast her in the 1980 comedy Used Cars.

After the film, Sperber was cast in her first role of note, that of Amy Cassidy on the sit-com Bosom Buddies (right).  The series starred a relatively unknown Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, and ran for two seasons on ABC.  Following its cancellation, Sperber joined the cast of the series Private Benjamin, before returning to feature films.

In 1984, Sperber reunited with Hanks for the comedy blockbuster Bachelor Party.  The following year, she appeared in one of her signature roles, that of Linda McFly in Back to the Future. The film was a huge success and she'd return to the role, albeit briefly, in Back to the Future Part III (1990).

The success of the film led to more roles for Sperber.  In 1987, she headlined a sit-com on the new FOX network entitled Women in Prison.  Curious?  Check out the intro on YouTube.  Like most FOX shows of the time, it only ran for 13 episodes.  But the network had a slew of crummy scripts laying around, and they cast her again in the 1990 sit-com BabesDespite having pop culture juggernaut The Simpsons as its lead-in on Thursday nights, it too was destined for cancellation.

In 1992, Sperber took her last role of note as a recurring character on the John Ritter/Markie Post sit-com Hearts Afire.  Following its cancellation in 1995, she'd spend the remainder of her career making one-off appearances in a variety of series, including Murphy Brown, JAG, and Married With Children.  Her final role was as a voice actor on the sit-com American Dad!.

In 1997, Sperber was diagnosed with breast cancer.  For the first few years, it was in remission, and during that time, she founded the WeSPARK Cancer Support Center in Sherman Oaks, California (left).  It offers a variety of courses and services to cancer patients and their families.  Signature events include Jason Alexander's Annual Celebrity Poker Tournament, an annual 5K run to raise awareness, and a series of drag queen bingo nights.  As of this posting, the Executive Director is actress Nancy Allen of RoboCop fame.  

By 2002, the cancer had returned with a vengeance, spreading through most of Sperber's body.  It would ultimately take her life on November 29, 2005.  She was just 47 years old. 

Wendie Jo Sperber was laid to rest at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

Location: Garden of Ramah, Map E, Space 3A

Rest in peace.

  • Sperber's headstone declares her a "Woman of Valor" in both English and Hebrew.  This is a reference to the Book of Proverbs, 31:10-12.  "An accomplished woman who can find?  Her value is far beyond rubies.  Her husband's heart trusts in her, and he lacks nothing valuable.  She brings him good and not harm all the days of her life."

  • Along with her co-star Marc McClure, Sperber appeared in four films directed by Robert Zemeckis: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Used Cars (1980), Back to the Future (1985) and Back to the Future Part III (1990).

  • During her final years, Sperber hosted an annual celebrity golf tournament and a mah jongg tournament in Santa Barbara.

  • In 1998, Sperber helped the U.S. Postal Service unveil a stamp promoting breast cancer awareness.

  • Upon her passing, Tom Hanks said this of his former Bosom Buddies co-star: "The memory of Wendie Jo is that of a walking inspiration.  She met the challenges of her illness with love, cheer, joy, altruism through weSPARK, and an unstoppable supply of goodness.  We are going to miss her as surely as we are all better for knowing her."

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Dorothy Stratten


Dorothy Stratten was born Dorothy Ruth Hoogstraten in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on February 28, 1960.  Just a few years earlier, her parents had immigrated from the Netherlands, intent on starting a family.  Brother John was born in 1961, followed by sister Louise in 1968.

During her high school years, Stratten worked at a local Dairy Queen in Coquitlam, British Columbia.  It was there in 1977 that she met the villain of our story, 26-year-old club promoter and pimp Paul Snider, who was immediately fascinated with the underage girl.  Despite his obvious lack of charm, the two soon began dating, with Snider even escorting Stratten to her senior prom.  

By 1978, the two were inseparable.  Snider, convinced that he had found his meal ticket, convinced Stratten to pose nude for a professional photographer.  He believed she could be the next Playboy Playmate, and promptly sent the photos to the magazine.  While Stratten was 18 years old at the time, the legal age of majority in Canada was 19, requiring Stratten's mother to sign a model release form.  It remains unclear today as to whether she actually signed the form herself or if Snider forged her signature.  Stratten followed the photos to Los Angeles, where she relocated in August 1978.  Snider followed just two months later, and they were married shortly thereafter.

When Playboy editors saw the photos, they were indeed interested, and Stratten was selected as a finalist to be the 25th anniversary Playmate.  While that title eventually went to model Candy Loving, Stratten was named Playmate of the Month in the August 1979 issue.  She began working as a bunny at the now-defunct Playboy Club in Century City, while simultaneously landing roles on television.  Playboy editor Hugh Hefner believed Stratten had great potential in Hollywood and was eager to help her pursue that endeavor, but he encouraged her to dump Snider, who was creeping the hell out of everyone.

Her first role, although uncredited, was in the 1979 Neal Israel comedy Americathon, starring Harvey Korman, Fred Willard and an unknown John Ritter.  She'd follow it up with guest appearances on Fantasy Island and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (see Trivia below).  She also appeared in the 1979 Maureen McCormick/Scott Baio classic Skatetown, USA.

In early 1980, Stratten starred as the titular character in the science-fiction film Galaxina.  The production was not an easy one however, as Snider was constantly on set fighting with his estranged wife. He was becoming increasingly paranoid that he was losing his wife to Hollywood, when in fact he was losing her through his own machinations. 

A few months later, she was named Playboy Playmate of the Year.  She shot a second pictorial for the magazine, which caught the attention of director Peter Bogdanovich.  He cast her in a new film entitled They All Laughed, playing opposite John Ritter. Stratten flew to New York to begin production on the film, eager to spend some time away from her husband.  There, she began having a relationship with Bogdanovich.  

In April, just as her issue was to be released, Stratten took a break from filming and went on a publicity tour to promote the magazine.  She returned to Los Angeles and the home she shared with Snider, declaring her intentions to leave him.

Stratten's tour ended in her hometown of Vancouver, where she decided to spend some time with her family.  Snider went there to see her however, and quite curiously, convinced her to make a few personal appearances at area nightclubs, for which he pocketed all of the proceeds.  Back in Los Angeles, Snider later sold all of her Playboy prizes, except for the $26,000 Jaguar that he kept for himself.

Principal photography for They All Laughed concluded in July, and Stratten returned to Los Angeles.  There, she moved in with Bogdanovich, a fact that did not sit well with Snider.  He hired a private detective to follow the two (which seems kinda pointless when you think about it).  Snider contacted his estranged wife on several occasions, convinced that he could win her back.  But Stratten had moved on.

Over the next few weeks, Snider made several attempts to buy a gun, something his Canadian citizenship prevented in Los Angeles.  He asked the private detective to buy one for him, but this man knew better.  Oddly, he never contacted the police to discuss his concerns.  Snider was ultimately successful in buying a used 12-gauge pump action shotgun via the classified ads.

On August 14, Stratten returned to Snider's house, as the two had arranged a meeting to discuss their separation.  She went to see him by herself, a mistake that would ultimately cost her her life.

Several hours later, Snider's roommate returned to the home, noticing Stratten's car in the driveway.  Upon entering the home, he found both of them dead, totally nude and covered in blood.  Police would later determine that Snider murdered Stratten within an hour of her entering the home, had sex with her lifeless corpse, then killed himself an hour later.  Upon hearing the news from Hugh Hefner, Bogdanovich had to be sedated.

Dorothy Stratten was laid to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village in Los Angeles.  She is just a stone's throw away from both Hugh Hefner and Marilyn Monroe.

Rest in peace.


  • The inscription on Stratten's headstone is a quote from Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  It reads: "If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them.  So of course it kills them.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.  We love you, D.R."  Coincidentally, Hemingway's granddaughter Mariel portrayed Stratten in in the 1983 Bob Fosse film Star 80.  For further insight into the quote, click here.

  • They All Laughed had a very limited release in 1981, with dismal results.  Bogdanovish believed in his film however, and personally financed a larger distribution four years later.  It was a box office disaster, largely seen as a Bogdanovich vanity project.  This decision ultimately bankrupted the director.

  • In 1985, Bogdanovich chronicled Stratten's life and career in his 1985 book The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960-1980.  Pick up a copy from Amazon.  Ironically, Bogdanovich himself passed away as this blog post was being prepared.

  • Four months after Stratten passed, the band Prism released a tribute song entitled "Cover Girl."  Then in 1983, Bryan Adams released his own tribute song entitled "The Best Was Yet to Come."  "Californication," by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, also pays tribute to Stratten.  You can listen to all three songs on YouTube.

  • On her Playmate Data Sheet, Stratten stated her biggest turnoff was "jealous people."

  • Stratten appeared in the Buck Rogers episode "Cruise Ship to the Stars."  When you watch the episode, listen closely, as you'll never hear her real voice.  All of her lines were dubbed by another actress.

  • Stratten appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to promote her Playmate of the Year issue.  You can watch that interview, and hear her real voice, on YouTube.

  • This blogger has visited the house where Stratten was murdered, located at 10881 West Clarkson Road in Rancho Park, Los Angeles.  The murder scene in Star 80 was filmed on location!