ZaSu Pitts (January 3, 1894 – June 7, 1963) was an American actress who starred in many silent dramas and comedies, although later, her career digressed to comedy sound films. She overcame her looks and voice, which had served her in silent films to play dramatic roles, using them to craft her persona in talkie comedies.
Pitts enjoyed her greatest fame in the 1930s, often starring in B movies and comedy shorts, teamed with Thelma Todd. She also played secondary parts in many films. Her stock persona (a fretful, flustered, worrisome spinster) made her instantly recognizable and was often imitated in cartoons and other films. She starred in a number of Hal Roach shorts and features, and co-starred in a series of feature-length comedies with Slim Summerville.
Switching between comedy shorts and features, by the advent of sound, she was relegated to comedy roles. A bitter disappointment was when she was replaced in the classic war drama All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) by Beryl Mercer after her initial appearance in previews drew unintentional laughs, despite the intensity of her acting. She had viewers rolling in the aisles in The Dummy (1929), Finn and Hattie (1931), The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Sing and Like It (1934) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935).
In the 1940s, she also found work in vaudeville and on radio, trading quivery banter with Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, and Rudy Vallee, among others. She appeared several times on the earliest Fibber McGee and Molly show, playing a dizzy dame constantly looking for a husband. Her brief stint in the Hildegarde Withers mystery series, replacing Edna May Oliver, was not successful, however.
In 1944 Pitts tackled Broadway, making her debut in the mystery, Ramshackle Inn. The play, written expressly for her, fared well, and she took the show on the road in later years. Post-war films continued to give Pitts the chance to play comic snoops and flighty relatives in such fare as Life with Father (1947), but in the 1950s she started focusing on TV.
This culminated in her best known series role, playing second banana to Gale Storm on The Gale Storm Show (1956) (also known as Oh, Susannah), as Elvira Nugent ("Nugie"), the shipboard beautician. Her last role was as a switchboard operator in the Stanley Kramer comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and, one day past six months after the filming of the last scene, she became that movie's second cast member to die.
Declining health dominated Pitts' later years, particularly after she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. However, she continued to work until the very end – making brief appearances in The Thrill of It All (1963) with Doris Day and James Garner, besides It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
She died June 7, 1963, aged 69, in Hollywood, California and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.