October 27, 2008

Leachman Just Wants to Have Fun

By Gary Strauss

Feisty Cloris Leachman has been raising more than a few eyebrows during her unexpectedly long run on ABC's popular ballroom competition Dancing With the Stars.

Randily approaching the show's three-judge panel showing some leg (and occasionally other body parts), sarcastically putting down rival competitors or explaining on live TV that one performance drew inspiration from a "skanky ho," Leachman, 82, isn't the best celebrity hoofer, but she's arguably the most unpredictably entertaining.

While Dancing's judges have consistently ranked her and her professional partner, Corky Ballas, near the bottom among competitors, Leachman has drawn enough viewer votes to survive six eliminations.

"The fact that I'm still on is a (expletive) miracle," says Leachman, who over seven decades of acting has won an Oscar and nine Emmys. "I suppose (viewers) see fun and hope and happiness."

As far as her post-dance shenanigans, Leachman says they're spontaneous. "Something comes over me -- I don't know what it is," she says. "If I've made people mad, I'm sorry. All my life, I've been a cut-up. I'm just having fun."

The show's executive producer, Conrad Green, denies reports that crewmembers or dancers are upset with Leachman's behavior. Instead, he says, they have taken her frolicking in stride.

"She's 82, but she's mischievous and has this uncanny ability to make people laugh," Green says. "We never know what to expect with her. But that's what live TV is about."

Ballas says that teaching Leachman ballroom moves was painful at first; he even moved her to a windowless practice studio to keep onlookers from distracting her.

But Leachman has been getting stronger and more proficient, says the professional dancer. "There are days we haven't danced because of her blood pressure. She's had some knee, rib and foot problems. But she never complains -- even when I tried to get her to do a cartwheel." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>