So much of the pop culture of my childhood has the stamp of Edie McClurg. Even before I had seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, she was voicing characters on “The Snorks”, “The Smurfs”, The Secret of NIMH, “Tiny Toons”, “Darkwing Duck”, “The Addams Family (cartoon”, and many others. She’s even the voice of Carlotta, Prince Eric’s housekeeper, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a film I have shamelessly memorized. I adored her as Hermit Hattie on the Pee Wee Herman Show (not yet Pee Wee’s Playhouse.) My family still shouts her distress call, “Yee-ow, Come Quick! Yee-ow, Come Quick! Come quick! Come quick! Come quick!” She has made a career of the cameo. And she’s hilarious. Any purveyors of the false myth that “women aren’t funny” haven’t bumped into Ms. McClurg (Or they are misogynist fools…or both…I digress.)
I certainly haven’t experienced her career in a chronological order. Her first movie was Carrie, and when I saw that I shouted “Oh my gosh! It’s Mrs. Poole from “The Hogan Family!” You know, like you do. However, no matter when she pops up, be it in a tv show or movie, I am always delighted to see her. Yes, she plays a similar character in the sense she’s got that upper Midwest matron thing down pat. But even a character that broad has it’s subtleties. For instance, let’s take her performance in A River Runs Through It. She plays Mrs. Burns, Jessie’s mom. She is the prime example of the movie’s previously narrated “Methodist – A Baptist Who Can Read.” She’s a Momma. Her kids can do no wrong. She may not be the sharpest tack in the lot, but she’s a Momma Bear. Then let’s look at her in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:
She’s still thoroughly a classic American Middle Class character, but this time, she’s a rude car rental agent. She looks similar, but Mrs. Burns wouldn’t pull that attitude on a customer.
So this woman is good, and as an actress she’s smart. She gets the joke. Her timing is impeccable, and even at her most devious, her most inept, she’s likeable. I love this woman.
And don’t worry. I wouldn’t dare to leave out her Tour de Force performance. Her Masterpiece. Her effortless, flawless, and to this day unique portrayal of Grace, the Secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Here we see her sniffing the white-out.
One of my personal favorite exchanges:
Mr. Rooney: I don’t trust this kid any further than I can throw him.
Grace: Well, with your bad knee, Ed, you shouldn’t throw anybody… It’s true.
Mr. Rooney: What is so dangerous about a character like Ferris Bueller is he gives good kids bad ideas. Last thing I need at this point in my career is fifteen hundred Ferris Bueller disciples running around these halls. He jeopardizes my ability to effectively govern this student body.
Grace: He makes you look like an ass, is what he does, Ed.
Mr. Rooney: Thank you, Grace, but I think you’re wrong.
Grace: Oh, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.
Mr. Rooney: That is why I need to show these kids that the example he sets is a first-class ticket to nowhere!
Grace: Oh, Ed, you sounded like Dirty Harry just then.
Mr. Rooney: Really? Thanks, Grace.
And finally, I offer you HER WEBSITE! You can email her! I don’t even know what I’d say.
She’s a Groundling, by trade. And it was the improv school that helped her create these fantastic characters. “Acting isn’t a singular profession, it’s a collaborate profession,” she’s quoted as saying. True, I agree. But her performances certainly are singular.
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.