Cloris Leachman has won more Emmy Awards than any other actress. She nabbed an Oscar for her supporting role in “The Last Picture Show” – and is affectionately remembered as landlady Phyllis Lindstrom on “The Mary Tyler Moore” show. Now, she's getting laughs on FOX’s “Raising Hope.”
But what did it take to be one of Hollywood’s original female funny ladies? The “Pioneers of Television Series” returns to PBS tonight, opening with the aptly titled episode “Funny Ladies,” which offers surprising new insights on Leachman’s breakthrough, and that of her cohorts including Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Betty White and Marla Gibbs.
“It never occurred to me that I was funny or that I could be funny,” Leachman told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “My little sister was the funny one.”
But with the exception of her mother, who she called a “goddess,” Leachman actually never looked up to or admired any Hollywood actresses. Not even Phyllis Diller.
“No, not even her. I thought she was funny. But I didn't like her eyebrows and she lived across the street from me later and she took me through her house once and showed me her after-sex room,” Leachman continued. “I liked her but I wasn't some little girl admiring, hoping never people in those categories. I would like people in the movies I saw but I didn't have dreams. I never thought of being an actress.”
However, now that she is seen as one of Hollywood's original “Funny Ladies," the star has some hopes for the industry in years to come.
“I would like to see older women. I suggested to the creators of ‘Raising Hope’ that I have a mother on the show. Everyone else had a mom, why couldn't I? I thought Carol Channing would be a good mother for me she's so funny and after a few weeks the creators came to me and said they are thinking of having me play my own mom,” she said. “So that's what they did and now they have a script and I am going to play my own mother.”
And even at 86, Leachman has no intention of leaving Hollywood for a more leisure-driven life.
“They are going to have to hit me with an iron bar to end it!” she exclaimed.
The “Funny Ladies” airs Tuesday on PBS.
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.