Brett Somers

Brett Somers was born on July 11, 1924 in Saint John as Audrey Dawn Johnston but grew up near Portland, Maine. At age 18 she moved to New York City to pursue a career in acting, settling in Greenwich Village. Her chosen first name, Brett, came from the lead female character in Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’. Her chosen last name, Somers, was reportedly her mother’s maiden name.

After settling in New York she married Robert Klein and had a daughter, Leslie, before their eventual divorce. She married actor Jack Klugman in 1953 and had two sons, Adam and David. Adam shares his July 11 birthday with Brett. Somers and Klugman were long reported to have separated in 1974 but remained legally married until her death. This belief was furthered by the fact that Klugman waited until after Somers died to marry his second wife. However, California records indicate the couple actually divorced in August 1977. Somers became a U.S. citizen late in life. 

Brett Somers & Jack Klugman
Brett Somers & Jack Klugman

A member of the Actors Studio from 1952, Somers began her career in theater and made many of her initial television appearances in dramatic programs such as ‘The Philco Television Playhouse’, ‘Kraft Television Theatre’, ‘Playhouse 90’ and ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’.

Her Broadway debut was in the play ‘Maybe Tuesday’. The show was a flop and closed after just five performances. She also appeared on stage in productions of ‘Happy Ending’, ‘The Seven Year Itch’ and ‘The Country Girl’, the last opposite Klugman. She also amassed a number of film credits including ‘A Rage to Live’ and Bus Riley’s ‘Back in Town’.

Somers made many appearances on episodic primetime television, including ‘Love, American Style’, ‘The Defenders’, ‘Have Gun Will Travel’, ‘Ben Casey’, ‘CHiPs’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Barney Miller’ and ‘The Fugitive’. In 1973 she played Rhoda Morgenstern’s Aunt Rose in the season four episode “Rhoda’s Sister Gets Married” on ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’.

She had a recurring role as Blanche, the former wife of Oscar Madison (played by real-life spouse Jack Klugman) on the ABC sitcom ‘The Odd Couple’ in the early 1970s. In 1973 she played Perry Mason’s receptionist Gertie on ‘The New Perry Mason’, a short-lived revival of the classic TV series, with Monte Markham as Perry Mason. She played the role of Siress Belloby on the 1978 science-fiction series ‘Battlestar Galactica’. 

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Somers was best known for her appearances as a panelist on the 1970s CBS game show ‘Match Game’. For her debut episode she sat in the lower-left panel position but for the remainder of her tenure she occupied the middle-center seat of the upper tier next to Charles Nelson Reilly, who joined as a regular around the same time as Brett and occupied the top-right seat. She was clearly left-handed as she was always seen writing her answers with her left hand. The show became known for somewhat outlandish and risque dialogue, sometimes being described as a game played at a cocktail party. Somers was a familiar on-screen presence, wearing enormous eyeglasses and various wigs. 

She played foil to Charles Nelson Reilly, Betty White, Scoey Mitchell, Fannie Flagg and many others. Somers was sometimes the subject of questions on Match Game, such as “You may or may not believe in reincarnation, but listen to this. In a previous life, Brett used to be a ________.”

Brett Somers & Charles Nelson Riley
Brett Somers & Charles Nelson Riley

Somers was not originally considered for the celebrity panel. When spouse Jack Klugman appeared during the first week of the program in 1973 he suggested that the producers bring her aboard. She remained a regular panelist for the rest of the show’s nine-year network and syndicated run. Her appearances on ‘Match Game’ led radio personality Robin Quivers to impersonate her in parodies of such game shows on ‘The Howard Stern Show’. Quivers’ impersonation of Somers was featured in the film ‘Private Parts’. 

Charles Nelson Riley
Charles Nelson Riley

In 2002 she appeared with Charles Nelson Reilly and Betty White (via videolink) as part of a ‘Match Game’ reunion on the CBS program The Early Show. She appeared with Reilly on ‘Hollywood Squares’ during that show’s “Game Show Week” in 2002. In 2006 she was a prominent interviewee in ‘The Real Match Game Story: Behind The Blank’ on GSN and hosted the ‘Match Game DVD’ as well. She appeared in a cabaret show ‘An Evening with Brett Somers’ in 2003-04.

In 2006 she appeared on ‘PBS Match Game’ in a special skit created just for her. She joined a special Match Game-esque panel with Dr. Joyce Brothers, Rip Taylor and Wink Martindale. Introduced as a “celebrity look-alike” by Rip, Somers ad-libbed and introduced the correct answer for “Istanbul is Constantinople”. She can also be seen on the program’s end credits singing “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight” with the McGuire Sisters and the entire cast.

During a 2002 interview Somers denied rumours that she had cancer. She reiterated that point in future interviews. Somers had a naturally husky voice that might have caused the misconception that she suffered from a throat ailment. However, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. Following a period of remission she died on September 15, 2007 at her home in Westport, Connecticut at age 83.

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Resources:
Wikipedia
IMDb 

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