Mary said she patterned her comedy style after the great comedic film actress Carole Lombard.
“A lot of people automatically assume that if you're attractive, you can't do comedy,” she said in a 1987 interview with Frank Sanello. “The old feeling was that you have to look goony... Mary Tyler Moore proved that you don't have to look like the back end of a bus to get laughs.”
“Newhart” was a solid ratings program for CBS, finishing in the Top 25 for six of its eight seasons. Newhart said that the network promised to renew a ninth season but he was ready to move on to other projects.
And, of course, the series finale of “Newhart” has been hailed as the greatest ending in TV history. Read more about it in the Classic TV Beauties profile of Suzanne Pleshette.
Classic TV Beauties 1980s Countdown
MARY FRANN as Joanna Loudon in "Newhart"
A little known starlet when the series started, Mary played the beautiful blonde Joanna, recognized for her underrated straight-man comedy and for wearing form-fitting sweaters in Nehwart's second series, which centered on a city couple who became innkeepers after they moved to a rural Vermont town populated by wacky characters.
After the hugely successful “The Bob Newhart Show” in the 1970s, Mary had the difficult task of replacing Suzanne Pleshette, Newhart's popular TV wife in his first series.
“I told Mary, 'You've got one of the toughest jobs on television because the chemistry between Susie [Pleshette] and myself... you can't recreate it,'” Newhart said in an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2001. “She understood, she knew she was going to be compared to Suzanne but [by not taking the job] that would mean never doing television.”
“I think Bob was right to find a woman who was a completely different kind of woman,” said “Newhart” co-star Peter Scolari (Michael Harris). “You get the sense that Suzanne Pleshette had played some poker in her time, maybe knocked back a couple of cigarettes in her life, and you’d be right to assume that Mary Frann did none of those things.
“Mary was such a dedicated actor…I don’t think she
missed a mark or screwed up a line in like 60 or 70 performances of her own, that were flawless “
Mary told People magazine that she would've preferred to expand her comedic acting chops on the show, rather than play it straight so often.
“I'd love to come apart at the seams (on the show),” she said in the 1989 People article. “That's something I'm always saying, 'Get me in trouble.'”
Newhart responded, “We can't all be acting crazy. Mary and I are kind of the glue that holds the show together. Mary's very underrated in terms of her contribution to the show, because she and I just have to react to the weirdess that's going on around us.”
Born in St. Louis as Mary Frances Luecke, Mary was the daughter of Harry Luecke, sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She became involved in sports at an early age. “It was a great foundation for everything,” she said. “You learn how to be a good sport. You learn how terrible it is to lose.”
Mary attended an all-girls Catholic high school with actress Marsha Mason.
“She and I were the ones who were always saying, 'We're actresses. We're going to make our marks someday.' We were always huddling off to the side, making our plans about what we were going to do.”
Mary changed her last name to Frann and won a scholarship to Northwestern University. She was accepted into Yale's prestigious drama department but instead took a job as a weather girl at a St. Louis TV station where she made a name for herself with her humorous delivery of the weather. With a camera trailing her, Mary would rush outside the studio, look up at the sky, then rush back inside to report the day's weather.
With her unique style of broadcasting, Mary caught the eye of a Chicago TV executive and was hired as a correspondent for a Windy City local TV talk show. She interviewed many celebrities, including Marlon Brando, whom Mary said made a pass at her during an on-air interview. She said Brando put his hand on her thigh, and she responded with a giggle.
Because she wanted to become more of an actress than a broadcaster, Mary quit her TV gig and moved to LA to become an actor. She made appearances in the TV series “Bonanza,” “Get Smart,” and “That Girl,” among others in the late 1960s-early 1970s. In 1974 she landed a role in “Days of Our Lives” During her five years working on the daytime soap, Mary also guest-starred in “Quincy, M.E.,” “Rockford Files,” and “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
Before “Newhart,” Mary's prime-time TV resume was limited to numerous one- and two-episode guest appearances and a seven-episode part in “King's Crossing,” a short-lived 1981 series.
Mary died of a heart attack at age 55 in 1998 in her Beverly Hills home.