Eileen Brennan

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Eileen Brennan
Eileen Brennan 1990.jpg
Brennan, circa 1990
BornVerla Eileen Brennen[1]
(1932-09-03)September 3, 1932
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedJuly 28, 2013(2013-07-28) (aged 80)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Bladder Cancer
Resting place
Years active1960–2011
Spouse(s)David John Lampson (1968–1974; divorced; 2 sons)
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Eileen Brennan
Eileen Brennan 1990.jpg
Brennan, circa 1990
BornVerla Eileen Brennen[1]
(1932-09-03)September 3, 1932
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedJuly 28, 2013(2013-07-28) (aged 80)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Bladder Cancer
Resting place
Years active1960–2011
Spouse(s)David John Lampson (1968–1974; divorced; 2 sons)

Eileen Brennan (September 3, 1932 – July 28, 2013) was an American actress of film, television, and theater. Brennan was known 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. She received Emmy nominations for her guest starring roles on Newhart, Thirtysomething, Taxi and Will & Grace.

Early life[edit]

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


Brennan appeared in plays with the Mask and Bauble Society at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where she was employed. She starred there in 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), earning Brennan an Obie Award, and its unofficial sequel The Student Gypsy (1963). She went on to create the role of Irene Malloy in the original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! (1964).[4] 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 semi-regular on the comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, but stayed for only two months.

Brennan received excellent reviews as brothel madam "Billie" in George Roy Hill's Oscar-winning 1973 film The Sting as the confidante of con man Henry Gondorf (Paul Newman). 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 classic The Last Picture Show (for which she received a BAFTA nomination for best supporting actress) and his 1974 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 would work together in two more films: The Cheap Detective and Clue; where Brennan once more displayed her world-weary acting style to great effect).

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.

After having dinner together one night in 1982, Brennan and Hawn left a restaurant. Brennan was hit by a passing car and suffered massive injuries. She took three years off work to recover, and had to overcome a subsequent addiction to painkillers.[5]

It was during this time that she played Mrs. Peacock in the film Clue (1985). 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/confidant of the title character. In 2001, she made a brief appearance in the horror movie Jeepers Creepers as The Cat Lady.

In 2002, she 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 his personal viewing of 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 received an Emmy nomination for her guest starring role in Taxi episode "Thy Boss's Wife" (1981). Brennan appeared in one All In The Family episode, "The Elevator Story" (1972) as Angelique Mcarthy. 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,[6] Jack McFarland's caustic yet endearing drama teacher on Will and Grace.

Personal life[edit]

From 1968 to 1974, Brennan was married to David John Lampson, with whom she had two sons: former basketball player turned actor, Patrick and singer Sam. Brennan was a breast cancer survivor, and in addition to the 1982 car crash where a drunk driver crushed her legs and an eye socket when she was leaving a restaurant, had fallen from the stage in 1989 during a production of Annie, breaking a leg.[7]


Brennan died at her home in Burbank, California on July 28, 2013, of bladder cancer.[8] She was 80. Her Private Benjamin co-star Goldie Hawn said she was a "brilliant comedian, a powerful dramatic actress and had the voice of an angel."[9] 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".[9] She was survived by her sons, Sam and Patrick, and by two grandchildren and her sister, Kathleen Howard.[7]


1967Divorce American StyleEunice Tase
1967NET PlayhouseUnknownEpisode: "Infancy and Childhood"
1968Rowan and Martin's Laugh-InPerformer12 episodes
1970The Ghost and Mrs. MuirPaula TardyEpisode: "Ladies' Man"
1970The Most Deadly GameAliceEpisode: "Photo Finish"
1971The Last Picture ShowGenevieveNominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1972All in the FamilyAngelique McCarthyEpisode: "The Elevator Story"
1972McMillan & WifeDoraEpisode: "Night of the Wizard"
1973JigsawUnknownEpisode: "In Case of an Emergency, Notify Clint Eastwood"
1973The Blue KnightGlendaTelevision film
1973The StingBillie
1974Nourish the BeastBaba GoyaTelevision Film
1974Daisy MillerMrs. Walker
1975InsightCarol HarrisEpisode: "The Prodigal Father"
1975At Long Last LoveElizabeth
1975Barnaby JonesAnita WillsonEpisode: "Blood Relations"
1975KojakJulie LoringEpisode: "A House of Prayer, a Den of Thieves"
1975HustlePaula Hollinger
1976Murder by DeathTess Skeffington
1977The Death of RichieCarol WernerTelevision film
1977The Great Smokey RoadblockPenelope Pearson
1978The Cheap DetectiveBetty DeBoop
197913 Queens BoulevardFelicia Winters9 episodes
1979When She Was BadMary JensenTelevision film
1979My Old ManMarieTelevision film
1979–1980A New Kind of FamilyKit Flanagan11 episodes
1980Private BenjaminCaptain Doreen LewisNominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1981When the Circus Came to TownJessyTelevision film
1981TaxiMrs. McKenzieEpisode: "Thy Boss's Wife"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
1981–1983Private BenjaminCaptain Doreen Lewis37 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 (1982-1983)
1982American PlayhouseMillworkerEpisode: "Working"
1982PandemoniumCandy's mom
1983The Funny FarmGail Corbin
1984The Love BoatHelen Foster2 episodes
1984–1985Off the RackKate Hollaran7 episodes
1985ClueMrs. Peacock
1986Babes in ToylandMs. Piper/Widow Hubbard
1987Magnum P.I.Brenda BabcockEpisode: "The Love That Lies"
1987Murder, She WroteMariam SimpsonEpisode: "Old Habits Die Hard"
1988The New Adventures of Pippi LongstockingMiss BannisterNominated—Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress
1988Sticky FingersStella
1988Rented LipsHotel Desk Clerk
1988CBS Summer PlayhouseSioban OwensEpisode: "Off Duty"
1988–1989NewhartCorinne Denby2 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
1990StellaMrs. Wilkerson
1990The Ray Bradbury TheaterMrs. Annabelle ShrikeEpisode: "Touched with Fire"
1990TexasvilleGenevieve Morgan
1990White PalaceJudy
1991BlossomAgnes3 episodes
1991thirtysomethingMargaret WestonEpisode: "Sifting the Ashes"
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
1992Home ImprovementWandaEpisode: "Heavy Meddle"
1993TribecaClaudiaEpisode: "Stepping Back"
1993Jack's PlaceDinaEpisode: "The Hands of Time"
1993BonkersLilith DuPrave4 episodes
1993Tales from the CryptRuth SandersonEpisode: "Til Death Do We Part"
1993All-New Dennis the MenaceVoice13 episodes
1994Murder, She WroteLoretta LeeEpisode: "Dear Deadly"
1995Walker, Texas RangerJoelleEpisode: "Mean Streets"
1995Thunder AlleyIrmaEpisode: "Are We There Yet?"
1995RecklessSister Margaret
1996ERBetty2 episodes
1996–20067th HeavenGladys Bink9 episodes
1997Veronica's ClosetGrammy AndersonEpisode: "Veronica's First Thanksgiving"
1998Nash BridgesLoretta BettinaEpisode: "Downtime"
1998Mad About YouInspector #10Episode: "Cheating on Sheila"
1998Pants on FireMom
1999Touched by an AngelDoloresEpisode: "The Last Day of the Rest of Your Life"
2000The Fearing MindIrene's motherEpisode: "Gentleman Caller"
2001Jeepers CreepersThe Cat Lady
2001–2006Will & GraceZandra6 episodes
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
2002Comic Book VillainsMiss Cresswell
2003Lizzie McGuireMargeEpisode: "My Fair Larry"
2003Strong MedicineEvelyn KnightlyEpisode: "Coming Clean"
2003Cheaper by the DozenMrs. DruckerUncredited (Scene Deleted)
2005Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and FabulousCarol Fields
2009The Kings of AppletownCoach's blind mother


  1. ^ https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGHJ-G4Z
  2. ^ According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905–1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California. At Ancestry.com
  3. ^ "Eileen Brennan Biography (1938-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ Biography for Eileen Brennan, Turner Classic Movies website
  5. ^ "Out of Her Horrid Accident and the Drug Addiction That Followed, Eileen Brennan Finds a Prescription for Life". People (22 April 1985). Retrieved 8 October 2011.
  6. ^ "Eileen Brennan". Television Academy. Retrieved 7 April 2014. 
  7. ^ a b 'Private Benjamin' star By Mark Olsen July 30, 2013, 6:39 p.m. L.A. Times http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-eileen-brennan-20130731,0,1490124.story
  8. ^ http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/actress-eileen-brennan-dies-595503
  9. ^ a b Eileen Brennan of 'Private Benjamin,' 'Clue' dies By DERRIK J. LANG, AP Entertainment Writer Updated 8:21 am, Wednesday, July 31, 2013 San Francisco Chronicle http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Eileen-Brennan-of-Private-Benjamin-Clue-dies-4697159.php

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