ZASU PITTS Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: ZaSu Pitts                                                                               
Born: 3 January 1894 Parsons, Kansas, U.S.                                                     
Died: 7 June 1963 Hollywood, California, U.S.                                                 
ZaSu Pitts (January 3, 1894 - June 7, 1963) was an                                             
American film actress who starred in many silent dramas, although later, her                   
career digressed to comedy sound films.                                                       
Her unusual first name was coined from parts of the names "Eliza" and "Susan",                 
female relatives who both wanted Pitts's mother to name the child after them. In               
many film credits and articles, her name was rendered as Zazu Pitts or Zasu                   
Pitts. Though her name is commonly mispronounced as "Zazz-oo", in her 1930s film               
shorts with Thelma Todd (see below) it is clearly pronounced on-screen (by Todd)               
as "ZAY-sue;" her name was also consistently pronounced "ZAY-sue" during her                   
recurrent guest appearances on Fibber McGee and Molly's show in 1939.                         
Born in Parsons, Kansas, to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, ZaSu was the third               
of four children. Her aged New York-native father, who lost a leg back in the                 
Civil War, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born, but                     
relocated to Santa Cruz, California in 1903, when she was 9, seeking a warmer                 
climate and better job opportunities. Her childhood home still stands at 208                   
Lincoln Street. She attended Santa Cruz High School and somehow rose above her                 
excessively shy demeanor to join the school's drama department. She went on to                 
cultivate what was once deemed her negative qualities by making a career out of               
her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies in scores and scores of                       
screwball comedy treasures.                                                                   
Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and was discovered two years later for films               
by pioneer screenwriter Frances Marion and made her debut in the silent film The               
Little Princess (1917), starring Mary Pickford. Pitts became a leading lady in                 
Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece Greed (1924); based on this performance, von                 
Stroheim labelled Pitts "the greatest dramatic actress". Von Stroheim also                     
featured her in his films The Wedding March (1928) and Walking Down Broadway (1933),           
which was re-edited by Alfred L. Werker and released as Hello Sister.                         
Pitts grew in popularity following a series of Universal one-reeler comedies and               
earned her first feature-length lead in King Vidor's Better Times (1919). She                 
met and married potential matinee idol Tom Gallery in 1920 and paired up with                 
him in several films, including Bright Eyes (1921), Heart of Twenty (1920),                   
Patsy (1921) and A Daughter of Luxury (1922). Their daughter Ann was born in                   
In 1924, the actress, now a reputable comedy farceur, was given the greatest                   
tragic role of her career in Erich von Stroheim epic classic Greed (1924), an                 
over nine-hour picture edited to less than two. The surprise casting initially                 
shocked Hollywood but pointed out that she could draw tears and pathos with her               
patented doleful demeanor as well as laughs. The movie has grown tremendously in               
respect over time, having failed initially at the box office due to its                       
extensive cutting.                                                                             
Pitts enjoyed her greatest fame, however, in the 1930s, often starring in B                   
movies and comedy shorts, often teamed with Thelma Todd. She also played                       
secondary parts in many films. Her stock persona (a fretful, flustered,                       
worrisome spinster) made her instantly recognizable and was often imitated in                 
cartoons and other films. She starred in a number of Hal Roach shorts and                     
features that were popular, and co-starred in a series of feature-length                       
comedies with Slim Summerville. Her brief stint in the Hildegarde Withers                     
mystery series was not well received, however; by this time Pitts was so                       
established as a comedienne that audiences didn't accept her as a brainy sleuth.               
Trading off between comedy shorts and features, she earned additional kudos in                 
such heavy dramas as Sins of the Fathers (1928), The Wedding March (1928), also               
helmed by von Stroheim, and War Nurse (1930). Still, by the advent of sound,                   
which was an easy transition for Pitts, she was fully secured in comedy. One                   
bitter and huge disappointment for her was when she was replaced in the war                   
classic All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Beryl Mercer after her initial               
appearance in previews drew unintentional laughs. She decided, however, to make               
the most of a not-so-bad situation. She had them rolling in the aisles in such                 
wonderful and wacky entertainment as The Dummy (1929), Finn and Hattie (1931),                 
The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Sing and Like It (1934) and               
Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). She also excelled deliciously in her comedy                         
partnerships with stunning blonde comedienne Thelma Todd (in short films) and                 
comedian Slim Summerville (in features).                                                       
Breezing through the 1940s in assorted films, she found work in vaudeville and                 
on radio as well, trading quivery banter with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and Rudy                 
Vallee among others. She also tackled Broadway, making her debut in the mystery               
Ramshackle Inn in 1944. The play, which was written especially for her, faired                 
quite well, and, as a result, took the show on the road frequently in later                   
years. Post-war films continued to give Pitts the chance to play comic snoops                 
and flighty relatives in such quality fare as Life with Father (1947), but into               
the 1950s she started focusing on TV. This culminated in her best known series                 
role playing second banana to cruiseline social director Gale Storm in The Gale               
Storm Show (1956) [a.k.a. Oh, Susannah] as Elvira Nugent ("Nugie"), the                       
shipboard beautician.                                                                         
Pitts' last role, shortly before her death, was as a voice actress (switchboard               
operator) in the Stanley Kramer comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).                 
She now has a street named after her in Las Vegas, Nevada.                                     
John E. Woodall (8 October 1933 - 7 June 1963) (her death)                                     
Tom Gallery (23 July 1920 - 2 May 1933) (divorced); two children (one adopted):               
a daughter, Ann Gallery, and a son, Don Gallery (nĂ© Marvin Carville La Marr),                 
whom they adopted and renamed after the 1926 drug-related death of his mother,                 
silent film actress Barbara La Marr.                                                           
Ill health dominated Pitts' later years when she was diagnosed with cancer in                 
the mid-1950s. She continued to work until the very end, making brief                         
appearances in The Thrill of It All (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner and                 
the all-star comedy epic It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). She died at age 69               
in Hollywood, California leaving behind a gallery of scene-stealing worryworts                 
for all to enjoy.                                                                             
She was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.