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Rest In Peace Private Benjamin And Clue's Eileen Brennan, 1932-2013

This summer has taken yet another one of Hollywood’s treasures from us, as CNN confirms Oscar-nominated actress Eileen Brennan passed away on Sunday in her Burbank, California home, having lost her fight against bladder cancer. But at 80 years old, I hardly think anyone would call her anything but a victor.

Brennan is perhaps most widely known for playing the overbearing Capt. Doreen Lewis opposite Goldie Hawn in Harold Zieff’s 1980 war comedy Private Benjamin, the role for which Brennan received a Best Actress in a Supporting Role nomination from the Academy. She went on to reprise this role in the short-lived TV series of the same name, which lasted from 1981-1983.

While Private Benjamin was a great movie, however, it isn’t the film I think of when Brennan’s name comes up. For me, she will always be Mrs. Peacock. As the gabby wife of a senator in Jonathan Lynn’s cult comedy classic Clue, Brennan’s Mrs. Peacock was the most memorable of any of the character’s media-spanning iterations. Re-introduce yourself to her in the clip below.

Brennan also classed up a pair of highly underrated Robert Moore comedy mysteries, starring in 1976’s Murder by Death and 1978’s The Cheap Detective, both of which were written by Neil Simon. You’ll also remember her from George Roy Hill’s genius 1973 crime drama The Sting, from Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent 1971 drama The Last Picture Show, and as The Cat Lady in the mostly forgettable horror Jeepers Creepers. Her most notable feature appearances in recent years were in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous and The Amateurs. She also received a Razzie nomination for her work on 1998’s The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, but everyone is willing to forgive that particular mess.

Brennan was just as prominent on the small screen as the big one during her career, earning Emmy nominations not only for her work as Cpt. Lewis, but also for her role in Taxi, as well as guest appearances in Newhart, thirtysomething and Will and Grace. And those accolades represent a small percentage of the shows she appeared on in her long career.

Born in 1932, Brennan’s career began on the stage, which soon transitioned into work on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and an entry into Hollywood films. In the middle of her work on the Private Benjamin series, tragedy struck as she was hit by a car while leaving a restaurant, resulting in multiple broken bones and other injuries in her legs and face. Her recovery process was marred by an addiction to pain medication, which she conquered with a 1984 visit to the Betty Ford Clinic. She also survived a battle with breast cancer in 1990. Sadly, she couldn’t defeat bladder cancer in the same way.

Cinema Blend sends our condolences to Mrs. Brennan’s family and friends in their time of mourning. Now break out those dancing shoes and hit the floor for Brenna’s performance of “La Vie En Rose” from The Cheap Detective.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.