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Ruth Ann Buzzi (born July 24, 1936) is an American comedienne and actress of theatre, film, and television. She is especially known for her performances on the comedy-variety show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973.
Buzzi was born at Westerly Hospital, Westerly, Rhode Island, the daughter of Rena Pauline (née Macchi) and Angelo Peter Buzzi, a nationally recognized stone sculptor. She was raised in Wequetequock, Connecticut, in a rock house overlooking the ocean at Wequeteqouck Cove, where her father owned Buzzi Memorials, a business still operated by her older brother, Harold. Her father was born in Arzo, Switzerland, in the Ticino – Italian section of the country. He carved the marble eagles at Penn Station in New York, the granite Leif Erikson memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, the animals seen in relief on the Natural History Museum in New York City, and made thousands of tombstones.
Buzzi attended Stonington High School where she gained experience as head cheerleader performing before crowds. At 17, she enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse for the Performing Arts and graduated with honors. She studied voice, dance, and acting, and took courses in cosmetology in case the acting career failed to attain success. Before graduation from college however, she was a working actress with a union card in musical and comedy revues. She moved to New York after graduation and was hired immediately for a lead role in an off-Broadway musical, the first of 19 such revues in her career.
Before leaving New York for a career in Los Angeles as a TV star, Buzzi appeared in a Bob Fosse classic Broadway hit, Sweet Charity, with Gwen Verdon. Between New York musical variety shows, Buzzi made numerous national television commercials, some of which won awards including the coveted CLEO.
Buzzi's first national appearance on television came on the Garry Moore Show just after Carol Burnett was replaced by Dorothy Loudon on the series. Ruth Buzzi saw her first taste of national fame as "Shakuntala" the silent, bumbling magician's assistant to her comedy partner Dom DeLuise as "Dominic the Great". They were an instant hit with the public.
Buzzi was a member of the regular repertory company on the CBS variety show The Entertainers (1964–1965). In 1966–1967, she was in the Broadway cast of the musical Sweet Charity, playing a role that was not in the film version. In the late 1960s, she was featured as a semi-regular on the sitcom That Girl as Marlo Thomas's friend and in a comedy-variety series starring Steve Allen. Her character parts in the Allen sketches led her to be cast for NBC's new show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Ruth Buzzi was the only featured player to appear in every episode of Laugh-In.
A versatile comedienne, she played everything from Southern belles to flashy hookers. Among her recurring characters on Laugh-In were Busy- Buzzi, Hollywood gossip columnist; Doris Sidebottom, a cocktail-lounge habituée who always got riotously smashed with husband Leonard (Dick Martin); and one of the Burbank Airlines Stewardesses, teaming with Debbie Reynolds as two totally inconsiderate flight attendants.
Her most famous character is the dowdy spinster Gladys Ormphby, clad in drab brown with her bun hairdo covered by a visible hairnet knotted in the middle of her forehead. In most sketches, she used her lethal purse, with which she would flail away vigorously at anyone who incurred her wrath. On Laugh-In, Gladys most often appeared as the unwilling object of the advances of Arte Johnson's "dirty old man" character Tyrone F. Horneigh.
In a typical exchange, Tyrone accosts Gladys and asks, "Do you believe in the hereafter?" "Of course I do!", Gladys retorts defensively. Delighted, Tyrone shoots back: "Then you know what I'm here after!"
NBC collectively called these two characters The Nitwits when they went to animation in the mid 1970s as part of the series Baggy Pants and the Nitwits. Buzzi and Johnson both voiced their respective roles in the cartoon.
Buzzi, as Gladys, later became a regular part of Dean Martin's "Celebrity Roasts", usually punishing Martin for his remarks about her unappealing looks and poor romantic prospects. In one such exchange, Gladys accusingly questioned Martin about who had been chasing her around a hotel room in the wee hours; Martin's response, "The exterminator!" earned him a beating as he broke up laughing along with the audience. Gladys then declared to the audience that, when Martin and other men looked at her, only one thing came to their minds. Martin, still laughing, could barely get out the answer, "Rabies!" which earned him an even fiercer beating from Gladys.
Buzzi starred with Jim Nabors in The Lost Saucer produced by Sid and Marty Krofft which aired September 6, 1975. Buzzi also guested as Chloe, the usually never-seen but often mentioned wife of phone company worker, Henry Beesmeyer on Alice. Martin's producer, Greg Garrison, enjoyed Ruth Buzzi's work and hired her for his comedy specials starring Dom DeLuise.
In 1986, she voiced for the character Nose Marie in the Hanna Barbera animated series Pound Puppies. She voiced "Mamma Bear" in the Berenstain Bears and did hundreds of guest voices for cartoon series. She is still seen frequently on Sesame Street in comedy sketch clips from her seven years on that show, and is often heard as the voice of outlandish failed torch singer, "Susie Kabloozy".
Buzzi was a semi-regular guest star on many television series including Donny & Marie, The Flip Wilson Show, The Dean Martin Music and Comedy Hour, the Dean Martin Roasts, The Carol Burnett Show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and variety series hosted by Leslie Uggams and Glen Campbell.
Buzzi had a brief cameo in the "Weird Al" Yankovic video "Gump" and appeared in other music videos with the rock groups B-52's and The Presidents of the United States of America. She also appeared for seven years as a regular performer on Sesame Street (playing shopkeeper Ruthie, which also allowed her to revive her Gladys Ormphby character, and also voiced Susie Kabloozie), Saved by the Bell (playing Screech Power's wacky mother as an Elvis fanatic), The Muppet Show, You Can't Do That on Television (during its CTV-produced incarnation Whatever Turns You On), and numerous other television shows. She was also a voice actress for The Smurfs, The Angry Beavers and Mo Willems' Sheep in the Big City. Buzzi also played the role of the eccentric Nurse Kravitz on NBC's daytime soap Passions. In 2006 and 2007, she made guest appearances on the children's TV series Come on Over.
Buzzi had a successful nightclub act all across the United States including in Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel and at the MGM Grand. She only performed the act for one year because she did not like the smell of cigarette smoke and disliked traveling all the time; her shows were all sold out and she was offered an extended stay in Las Vegas but opted out.
Buzzi has had featured roles in more than 20 motion pictures including Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, The North Avenue Irregulars, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, The Villain, and a number of westerns for the European market known as the Lucky Luke series in which she plays the mother of the Dalton Gang and other roles.
Buzzi is an inductee into the Television and Radio Hall of Fame and the Rhode Island Hall of Fame. She has been nominated by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Emmy Awards five times in several categories from comedy and variety to drama; she was recognized not only for making people laugh, but for her versatility as an actress; she is remembered for a guest starring dramatic role on Medical Center with Greg Evigan in which she played the wife of a fatally ill man played by Don Rickles.
Buzzi received a Cleo Award for Best Spokesperson in a television commercial for her series of Clorox-2 commercials, and was among the few White women to ever win an NAACP Image Award. Ruth Buzzi guest starred as a music and comedy performer on dozens of nighttime television specials with colleagues such as Jonathan Winters, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wayne Newton and Anne Murray, Dom DeLuise, and was in a show created for Debbie Reynolds called Aloha Paradise to name just a few. She appeared 8 times on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and made more than 200 other television guest appearances.
In 2009, Buzzi was a presenter at the Emmy Awards along with several members of her debut series, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
Pop culture references
American post-hardcore/metal band The Bled recorded a song entitled "Ruth Buzzi Better Watch Her Back" for their album Pass the Flask, and later re-released on Pass The Flask (Reissue). The title of the song comes from a line in the movie Wet Hot American Summer.
Buzzi played the wife of her close friend Kinky Friedman in the satirical music video "Get your Biscuits in the Oven and your Buns in the Bed."
Nikki Dodo once impersonated her in "Sawdust and Toonsil" on Tiny Toon Adventures.
Buzzi lives primarily in Southlake, Texas and enjoys spending time with her husband (a retired businessman) at their 220-acre ranch just west of Fort Worth, Texas where they raise Black Angus cattle and quarter horses; she has a horse named Gladys, a cat named Ratso Rizzo, and her hobby is painting. Buzzi does not offer paintings for sale to the public, but has donated paintings to charity where they have sold for thousands of dollars. She supports children's charities including Make a Wish Foundation, the Special Olympics, St. Jude's Hospital, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
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