Actress Cloris Leachman back in Port Townsend for tea and conversation
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Nicole Englund, left, visits/wrestles with her former mother-in-law, actress Cloris Leachman, at Pippa's Real Tea in Port Townsend on Monday.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — Sitting on the patio in back of Pippa's Real Tea, Cloris Leachman isn't interested in talking about Hollywood or reminiscing about her career.

“All that stuff is boring; nobody cares,” she says when asked to compare her work through the years.

“I don't have any opinions about those dumb things.”

Leachman, 87, is in Port Townsend this week to visit Nicole Englund, who was married to Leachman's son George for 17 years.

“There aren't many former mothers-in-law who would come to visit you,” Englund said.

Leachman last visited Port Townsend in 2009, when she was the special guest of the Port Townsend Film Festival.

Englund, who was accompanying the actress on that trip, liked the town and moved to Port Townsend last year.

The two women have remained close, and Englund finally persuaded Leachman to come for a visit.

Englund lives in an apartment above Pippa's Real Tea at 636 Water St., which will host a “Have a Cuppa with Cloris” event from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

People can come in and chat with the actress, although the tea shop is stopping short from calling it a “meet and greet.”

“Cloris likes talking to people, but we want to keep it really informal,” Englund said.

Leachman won an Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role for 1971's “The Last Picture Show” before landing roles in a series of sitcoms, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s to the current “Raising Hope,” in which she plays a batty grandmother with flashes of lucidity.

Which is sort of what she's like in real life, jumping from one topic to the next.

Englund, 52, has known Leachman for more than half of her life; she began dating Leachman's son at age 23.

“You were my greatest inspiration in life,” Englund said to Leachman.

“You taught me health, you taught me cooking, how to use my voice and speak up.”

Hearing this, Leachman got serious, recalling when the two first met.

“When I first saw you, you were like this with your hair covering your face,” Leachman said as she pulled Englund's hair into a curtain over her face.

“I parted it down the middle and got to see who you really were.

“I had no idea who she was and what she looked like.”

Englund, said she welcomed Leachman's visit because “none of my family lives up here, and I needed a family fix.

Leachman has cracked people up for years, from the terrifying Frau Blucher in 1974's “Young Frankenstein” to the crazy alligator-feeding lady in “Lake Placid 2,” the sequel to a low-budget horror movie in which her “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star Betty White played a role.

While she's worked with many notable actors, they are not really her friends, she said.

She'd rather spend time with family.

“You are always connected with people even though you never call them or see them,” she said.

“Years later, you might see them at an event, and it's like you've never left them. There is a true and deep love although you never see them.

“People always ask me about Betty White, but I barely know her.

“We have nothing in common, I've never been to her house, and I don't know why people are always trying to put us together.”

While in Port Townsend, Leachman plans to go whale-watching, visit the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim and maybe even squeeze in a trip to Jefferson County's Wheel-In Motor Movie, one of the last remaining drive-in theaters.

Leachman has worked with many young actors, but she said she doesn't strive to teach them their craft.

She'd rather teach them how to hug.

“People don't know how to hug,” she said.

“They grasp each other too hard or not at all, and then they pat you on the back.

“Or they hold for a minute and let go as if to say: 'I'm too nervous. I don't want to hold on too long because my wife might be upset.'

“Then I say I don't want to [expletive] you, I just want to hug you.

“Then they get upset when I say the word [expletive].”

Leachman then spends the next several minutes demonstrating the right and wrong way to hug with several people at Pippa's Real Tea.

“I've told you this before, Cloris, but you have been a surrogate mother figure to me for the last 25 years,” Englund said.

“More people tell me that I remind them of their mothers,” Leachman answered, not referring to Englund.

“I don't want to be a mom to them.

“I want to be a woman, a person, not a character.”

A minute later, Leachman is answering the sea gulls' cry with yaps of her own.

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: August 12. 2013 8:51PM
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