Cloris Leachman

Cloris Leachman Headshot

Actress • Comedian

Birth Date: April 30, 1926

Death Date: January 26, 2021

Birth Place: Des Moines, Iowa

With a career that spanned a staggering six decades on stage and screen, actress Cloris Leachman was one of primetime's funniest comediennes and a favorite player in the classic film satires of Mel Brooks. A former beauty pageant winner who began her career on the Broadway stage, Leachman's first high profile achievement was her Academy Award-winning performance in Peter Bogdanovich's stark drama "The Last Picture Show" (1971). From there, the over-40 actress' career kicked into high gear, with award-winning roles as the hilariously self-important Phyllis Lindstrom on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" (CBS, 1970-77) and the subsequent spin-off, "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-77). She forever held a place in film comedy history for her tightly wound, strangely accented characters in Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and "History of the World, Part 1" (1981) - a strength she introduced to a new generation of fans in the role of grandma Ida on Fox's quirky "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox, 2000-06).

The octogenarian became the reality competition's oldest contestant when she joined the cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) in 2008, then trotted on to the sitcom "Raising Hope" (Fox, 2010-14), as the semi-lucid grandmother "Maw Maw" Chance. With more than 40 years of film and television work under her belt, Leachman made it clear she was far from ready to retire, and had plenty more laughs to impart to appreciative fans of all ages.

Cloris Leachman was born on April 30, 1926, in Des Moines, IA where her father owned a lumber company. A self-admitted perfectionist as a child, Leachman made great strides towards her goal of acting with countless stage roles with the Des Moines Playhouse and appearances on local radio by the time she was a teenager. Her impressive achievements earned her a scholarship to the drama department at Northwestern University, where her classmates included future stars Charlton Heston, Patricia Neal and Charlotte Rae. While a student, Leachman entered the Miss Chicago beauty pageant and went on to place as a finalist in the 1946 Miss America competition. She bid college goodbye and used her $1,000 prize money to move to New York City, where she was invited by Elia Kazan to join the Actors Studio. Under their auspices, she made her TV debut as a recurring player on the drama series "Actors Studio" (ABC, 1948-49) and went on to appear in numerous live television dramas during the 'Golden Age of Television' in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Leachman also worked continuously on Broadway, playing Nellie Forbush in the original production of Rogers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," sharing the stage with Katherine Hepburn in "As You Like It," and earning a Drama Desk nomination for "A Story for a Sunday Evening" in 1951.

While her acting career barreled ahead, Leachman married actor George Englund and together the young family headed to Hollywood. Englund launched a career as a film producer and director and Leachman made her film debut as the desperate woman found by the roadside in the opening sequence of Robert Aldrich's landmark film noir "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955). Despite her beauty queen past, the actress was not considered a conventional Tinseltown leading lady, and her sharp features, Midwestern accent and incisive acting skills marked her for offbeat character parts. During the late 1950s, Leachman had a regular TV role playing Timmy's wholesome, Midwestern mom on the series "Lassie" (CBS, 1954-1973) and was seen in countless guest spots on Westerns and live dramas while occasionally returning to Broadway. After nearly a decade of steady work on all the dramas and comedies of the day, including recurring characters on "Dr. Kildare" (NBC, 1961-66) and "77 Sunset Strip" (ABC, 1958-1964), Leachman made a memorable impression as a jittery lady of the evening in the Best Picture Oscar nominee "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969).

She followed up with big screen performances in a pair of scathing middle-America commentaries, "WUSA" (1970) and "The People Next Door" (1970), before a recurring role on the groundbreaking sitcom "Mary Tyler Moore" turned Leachman into a household name. The character-driven show, which starred Mary Tyler Moore as a thirty-something single professional and uniquely independent woman, featured Leachman as Mary's on-site landlady - a self-absorbed busybody who fancied herself an intellectual and progressive woman. As Phyllis Lindstrom, Leachman unleashed a sparkling, multiple Emmy-nominated comedic talent. The following year, she affirmed her versatility with a heartbreaking turn as a lonely, neglected housewife who begins an affair with a high school senior in Peter Bogdanovich's near-perfect adaptation of Larry McMurtry's "The Last Picture Show." The flinchingly honest portrayal earned the 45-year-old actress an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She went on to offer a string of award-winning performances on the small screen, beginning with "A Brand New Life" (ABC, 1973), where she played a middle-aged woman facing an unwanted pregnancy, and "The Migrants" (CBS, 1974), where she portrayed the matriarch of a family of fruit pickers.

Another Bogdanovich effort, "Daisy Miller" (1974) proved disappointing, but Leachman rebounded and became a member of Mel Brooks' unofficial stock company with "Young Frankenstein" (1975) and her classic supporting turn as housekeeper Frau Blucher, known for frightening all horses within earshot. She enlivened the early Jonathan Demme mob effort "Crazy Mama" (1975) and finally landed her own TV series, the spin-off "Phyllis" (CBS, 1975-77), which found her now-widowed character moving to San Francisco with her teenage daughter and re-entering the work force. The show was cancelled after two seasons (and one Lead Actress Golden Globe Award) and the same year that "Mary Tyler Moore" left the airwaves. But Leachman remained an in-demand comic player, reteaming with Brooks' to play skilled S&M dominatrix Nurse Diesel in the Hitchcock spoof "High Anxiety" (1977). She enjoyed character roles in madcap comedies like "The Muppet Movie" (1979) and "Herbie G s Bananas" (1980) and joined Brooks a third time to play an innkeeper in "History of the World, Part 1" (1981).

Following starring roles in several made-for-TV movies, Leachman returned to series television in "The Facts of Life" (NBC, 1979-1988) where she took over the "mentor" role vacated by former classmate Charlotte Rae for the show's final two seasons. Beginning in 1989, Leachman began a decade of touring in a one-woman play written for her in which she portrayed American primitive painter Grandma Moses. On the big screen, she reprised her "Last Picture Show" role in the disappointing Bogdanovich sequel "Texasville" (1990) and seemed to be having fun stepping into Irene Ryan's boots to play Granny Clampett in the feature version of "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1993). Not one to consider retirement, the 70-year-old actress spent nearly three years playing Parthy, the captain's wife, in a touring production of "Show Boat" before returning to series grind as a feisty, lusty oldster in the CBS summer sitcom "Thanks" (1999). The very busy Leachman provided a character voice for the acclaimed animated feature "The Iron Giant" and supported Meryl Streep in "Music of the Heart" (1999).

A whole new generation of sitcom viewers was introduced to Leachman when she was cast as Ellen DeGeneres' mother on the CBS sitcom "The Ellen Show" (2001-02) and began a recurring guest turn as the chain-smoking, tough-talking grandmother Ida on Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle." Her repeat performances throughout the series history earned Leachman annual Emmy nominations and delivered awards in 2002 and 2006, the same year she was also nominated for a supporting role in the HBO original drama movie, "Mrs. Harris" (HBO, 2005). Leachman continued to offer comedic big screen outings, taking on matronly roles in such films as "Alex & Emma" (2003) and "Bad Santa" (2003), where she played the half-dead grandmother of a portly misfit who rises only occasionally to make sandwiches. She received some of the best reviews of her career when she appeared as Tea Leoni's alcoholic mother in writer-director James L. Brooks' "Spanglish" (2004).

After a small role as a school nurse with X-ray vision in the family superhero comedy "Sky High" (2005), Leachman appeared in Peter Segal's weak remake of the classic 1974 Burt Reynolds film "The Longest Yard" (2005) and delivered a hilarious turn in the popular franchise "Scary Movie 4" (2006). In 2008, Leachman began a national tour of her one-woman autobiographical stage show "Cloris!" and appeared as part of the outstanding ensemble cast of the chick flick "The Women" (2008). She supported her latest efforts by joining the fall season of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) where at age 82, she became the oldest contestant in the show's history. She next landed a supporting role on the irreverent hit comedy "Raising Hope" (Fox, 2010-14), playing the Alzheimer's-afflicted great-grandmother of a 23-year-old new father (Lucas Neff) who is utterly clueless about raising his infant daughter. Leachman was one of several highlights on the show and earned herself an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.

Cloris Leachman died on January 26, 2021 in Encinitas, CA at the age of 94.

Credits

Not to Forget

Actor
Donna
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2021

High Holiday

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Nana
Movie
2021

The Croods: A New AgeStream

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Gran
Movie
2020
77%

Jump, Darling

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Margaret
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2020

The Croods: A New Age

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Gran
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2020

Mad About You

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Mrs. Mandelbaum
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2019

When We Last Spoke

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Itasca
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2019

I Can Only Imagine

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Memaw
Movie
2018

Lez Bomb

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Josephine
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2018

American GodsStream

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Zorya Vechernyaya
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2017
77%

Elena of AvalorStream

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Hool
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2016

To Tell the TruthStream

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Game Show
2016

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?

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Maxine
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2016

The Comedian

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May Conner
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2016

So B. It

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Alice Wilinsky
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2016

The Wedding RingerStream

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Grandma Palmer
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2015
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Scouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseStream

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Miss Fielder
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2015
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Unity

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2015

This Is Happening

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Estelle
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2015

The Bronx Bull

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Lilian Forrester
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2015

Girl Meets WorldStream

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Mrs. Svorski
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2014

ClarenceStream

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Cloris
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2014

KirstieStream

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2013
35%

The MillersStream

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Louise
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2013
47%

The Queen Latifah Show

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The Arsenio Hall Show

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Raising Hope: Extras

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2013

Creative Galaxy

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Gallaria
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2013

The CroodsStream

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Gran
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2013
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Adult WorldStream

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Mary Anne
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2013
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Celebrity Wife SwapStream

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Reality
2012

Gambit

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Grandma Merle
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2012

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

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Dotty Rounder
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2012

Franklin & BashStream

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Irina Lottye Kruskal
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2011
61%

Bob's BurgersStream

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2011

Bob's BurgersStream

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2011

The TalkStream

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2010

Raising HopeStream

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Maw Maw
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2010
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Raising HopeStream

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2010
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Hawaii Five-0Stream

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Hot in ClevelandStream

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2010

Adventure TimeStream

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Old Marceline
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2010
100%

The Fields

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Gladys
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Expecting Mary

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Annie
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2010

Lopez Tonight

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2009

HawthoRNe

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2009

Royal PainsStream

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Annette Bellamy
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2009

Love Takes Wing

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Hattie Clarence
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2009

New York, I Love You

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Mitzie
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2009

American Cowslip

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Sandy
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2009

The Bonnie Hunt Show

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2008

The Doctors

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2008

Comedy Central Roast of Bob SagetStream

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The Wendy Williams Show

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2008

The WomenStream

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Maggie
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2008
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Ponyo

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2008

Phineas and FerbStream

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Phineas and FerbStream

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The Wedding Bells

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Great Gam Gam
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Dancing With the StarsStream

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Dancing With the StarsStream

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The OfficeStream

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2005
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Mrs. Harris

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Lynette
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2005
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Sky High

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2005

The Californians

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Boatwright
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2005

Spanglish

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Evelyn Wright
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2004

Joan of Arcadia

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2003
96%

Two and a Half MenStream

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Norma
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2003
65%

Happy Family

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2003

Comedy Central RoastStream

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2003

Jimmy Kimmel Live!Stream

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2003

Alex & Emma

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Grandmother
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2003

Bad SantaStream

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Grandmother
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2003
78%

The Twilight ZoneStream

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2002

The Ellen Show

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2001

Live With Regis and Kelly

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2001

The Amati Girls

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Dolly
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2001

Manna From Heaven

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Helen Madden
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2001
22%

Gen 13

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2000

Malcolm in the MiddleStream

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2000

Hanging UpStream

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Pat
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2000
12%

Twice in a Lifetime

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1999

Thanks

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1999

Norm

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1999
67%

Family Guy

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1999

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1999

The Iron GiantStream

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Mrs. Lynley Tensedge
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1999
96%

Music of the HeartStream

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Assunta Guaspari
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1999
64%

Annabelle's Wish

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1997

The ViewStream

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Promised Land

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Access Hollywood

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Old Woman on Plane and Bus
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1996
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Never Too Late

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Maybe This Time

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Between Love and Honor

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Extra

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Diagnosis Murder

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1993

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Spies

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Without a Kiss Goodbye

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My Boyfriend's Back

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Maggie
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1993

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

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The Beverly Hillbillies

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1993
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Miracle Child

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Mad About YouStream

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The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

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In Broad Daylight

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A Little Piece of Heaven

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Un Pedacito de Cielo

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Fine Things

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Ruth Fine
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1990

Love Hurts

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Ruth Weaver
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1990

Sueño de Amor

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1990

Texasville

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Ruth Popper
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1990

The SimpsonsStream

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1989
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The Nutt House

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1989

PrancerStream

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Mrs. McFarland
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1989
67%

Wedding Day Blues

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Mrs. Haldane
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1988

Sparky's Magic Piano

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1988

Instinto de Lobo

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1987

The Little Troll Prince

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Queen Sirena
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1987

The Facts of Life Down Under

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Beverly Ann Stickle
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1987

Hansel and Gretel

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The Witch
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1987

Walk Like a Man

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Margaret Shand
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1987

Our House

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1986

The Oprah Winfrey ShowStream

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1986

My Little PonyStream

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1986

Castle in the SkyStream

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Dola
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1986
96%

Shadow Play

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Millie Crown
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1986

Le Mystère Crown

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1986

Deadly Intentions

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Charlotte Raynor
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1985

Love Is Never Silent

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Mrs. Anglin
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1985

Donald Duck's 50th Birthday

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1984

Ernie Kovacs

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1984

Ernie Kovacs: Between the Laughter

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Mary Kovacs
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1984

Gorąca linia

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Pat
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1983

Dixie: Changing Habits

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Sister Eugenio
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1983

The Demon Murder Case

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Joan Greenway
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1983

Miss All-American Beauty

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Agatha Blaine
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1982

L'Hymne d'amour

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1981

History of the World: Part IStream

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Madame Defarge
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1981
63%

My Strange Uncle IMAX

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1981

Advice to the Lovelorn

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Maggie Dale
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1981

The Acorn People

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Nurse Betty Nelson
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1981

Siempre Te Amaré

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1980

Foolin' Around

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Samantha
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1980

Herbie Goes Bananas

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Aunt Louise
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1980

The Oldest Living Graduate

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Maureen
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1980

The Associates

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1979

The Facts of LifeStream

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1979

CBS News Sunday Morning

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1979

The North Avenue Irregulars

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Claire
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1979

The Muppet MovieStream

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Lord's Secretary
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1979
88%

Willa

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Darla Jean
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1979

S.O.S. Titanic

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Molly Brown
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1979

Mrs. R's Daughter

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Ruth Randell
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1979

Scavenger Hunt

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Mildred Carruthers
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1979

La Course à l'héritage

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1979

Long Journey Back

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Laura Casella
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1978

The Mouse and His Child

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Euterpe
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1977

High AnxietyStream

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Nurse Diesel
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1977
74%

It Happened One Christmas

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Clara Oddbody
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1977

Wonder WomanStream

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1976

The Love Boat

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Iris Havlicek
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1976

Good Morning America

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1975

Phyllis

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Phyllis Lindstrom
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1975

Alguien Quien Acaricié

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1975

Death Scream

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Mrs. Singleton
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1975

Someone I Touched

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Laura Hyatt
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1975

A Girl Named Sooner

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Old Mam Hawes
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1975

The New, Original Wonder Woman

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Queen Hippolyta
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1975

Crazy MamaStream

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Melba
Movie
1975
92%

Rhoda

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1974

Thursday's Game

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Lois Ellison
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1974

Death Sentence

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Susan Davies
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1974

Hitchhike!

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Claire Stevens
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1974

The Migrants

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Viola Barlow
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1974

Young Frankenstein

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Frau Blücher
Movie
1974
94%

Daisy Miller

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Mrs. Ezra Miller
Movie
1974

The Bobby Darin Show

Guest
Show
1973

DillingerStream

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Anna Sage
Movie
1973
93%

Happy Mother's Day, Love George

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Ronda
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1973

Crime Club

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Hilary Kelton
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1973

La Disparition

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1973

Dying Room Only

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Jean Mitchell
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1973

A Brand New Life

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Victoria Douglas
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1973

Charley and the Angel

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Nettie Appleby
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1973

Charlie et l'ange

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1973

The Sixth Sense

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1972

Of Thee I Sing

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Mary Turner
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1972

Haunts of the Very Rich

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Ellen Blunt
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1972

Au-delà de la fortune

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1972

The Steagle

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Rita Weiss
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1971

Suddenly Single

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Joanne Hackett
Movie
1971

The Last Picture ShowStream

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Ruth Popper
Movie
1971
98%

Night Gallery

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1970

The Mary Tyler Moore ShowStream

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Phyllis Lindstrom
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1970

Lovers and Other Strangers

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Bernice Henderson
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1970

WUSA

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Philomene
Movie
1970

The People Next Door

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Tina Hoffman
Movie
1970

Marcus Welby, M.D.Stream

Guest Star
Jean Cullen
Series
1969

Silent Night, Lonely Night

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Ginny
Movie
1969

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidStream

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Agnes
Movie
1969
90%

The Name of the Game

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1968

The Dick Cavett ShowStream

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1968

Mannix

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Barker's Ex-Wife
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1967

The Guns of Will Sonnett

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1967

Judd for the Defense

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1967

That GirlStream

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1966

The Trials of O'Brien

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1965

The Big Valley

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1965

A Man Called Shenandoah

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1965

Mr. Novak

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1963

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonStream

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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonStream

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1962

The Chapman ReportStream

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Miss Selby
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1962

Target: The Corruptors

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1961

Dr. Kildare

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Rhoda Kirsh
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1961

Route 66Stream

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1960

ThrillerStream

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1960

The Man in the Moon

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1960

The Untouchables

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1959

The Twilight ZoneStream

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Mrs. Fremont
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1959
92%

LaramieStream

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Sarah
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1959

Johnny Staccato

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1959

One Step BeyondStream

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1959

RawhideStream

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1959

77 Sunset Strip

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Vicki Franklin
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1958

The Donna Reed ShowStream

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1958

Timmy & Lassie

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1957

Perry MasonStream

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Gloria Shine
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1957

Wagon TrainStream

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Loretta
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1957

Zane Grey TheaterStream

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1956

The RackStream

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Caroline
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1956

Screen Directors Playhouse

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1955

Alfred Hitchcock PresentsStream

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Susan Stanger
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1955

GunsmokeStream

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Boni
Series
1955

Marshal Dillon

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1955

Star Stage

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1955

Kiss Me Deadly

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Christina Bailey
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1955
98%

Climax!Stream

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1954

Lassie

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Ruth Martin
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1954

Jeff's Collie

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1954

Today

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The Bob and Ray Show

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1951

Tales of TomorrowStream

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1951

SuspenseStream

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News aboutCloris Leachman