Actor renowned for 'gruff but lovable' characters




3-9-1932 - 28-7-2013

Eileen Brennan, a veteran actress best known for an Oscar-nominated turn in the 1980 comedy Private Benjamin, one of her many tough-talking, soft-hearted roles, has died aged 80.

The actress was the epitome of the "gruff but lovable" type, often bringing comedic sparkle to workaday frustrations while playing figures worn weary by their lives but still able to laugh off the worst.

It was in her role as the growling Captain Doreen Lewis in Private Benjamin, who oversaw the unlikely army enlistee played by Goldie Hawn, that Brennan found her biggest success. The film was a box-office hit and earned three Oscar nominations, including one for Brennan as best supporting actress. She won an Emmy for her part in the television spin-off. Brennan was nominated for an Emmy seven times, including for appearances on Taxi, Thirtysomething, Newhart and Will & Grace.

Verla Eileen Regina Brennan was born on September 3, 1932, in Los Angeles to Regina Menehan, a former silent film actress, and John Gerald Brennan, a doctor. By the end of the 1950s Brennan had made her way east, studying at Georgetown University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Onstage, she played the title role in the 1959 off-Broadway production of Little Mary Sunshine and co-starred in the 1964 Broadway production of Hello, Dolly!

She made her film debut in the 1967 comedy Divorce American Style, starring Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds and Jason Robards. More recently, she was in the film Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous and TV's 7th Heaven.

In Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), she played a waitress in a small Texas town diner. Brennan also appeared in Bogdanovich's 1974 adaptation of Daisy Miller, his 1975 musical At Long Last Love and the 1990 Picture Show sequel, Texasville.

In 1973, she had supporting parts in The Sting and Scarecrow.

She often excelled in roles as a wisecracking, hard-bitten sidekick, such as the madam in The Sting and her turns in the Neil Simon-scripted Murder By Death (1976) and The Cheap Detective (1978).

The unexpected strength she often showed on screen came through in her off-screen life as well. In October 1982, Brennan was hit by a car in Venice, California, and was seriously injured. Her long recovery led to a drug addiction. After appearing in the 1984 sitcom Off The Rack, she checked into the Betty Ford Centre for treatment.

She fell from the stage while appearing in a 1989 production of Annie, breaking a leg. In 1990, she was treated for breast cancer.

Of her survivor's strength, in a 1999 interview Brennan said: "I'm here, aren't I? What else can they do to me? The lesson is, you just take it day by day. That's what all of us have to do. Some of us just have to learn it the hard way."

Her marriage to British-born poet and photographer David

Lampson ended in 1973. She is survived by two sons, two grandchildren and a sister.

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