|Birthname:||Eliza Susan Pitts|
|Location:||Parsons, Kansas, U.S.|
|Deathplace:||Hollywood, California, U.S.|
|Spouse:||John E. Woodall (1933-1963) (her death)|
Tom Gallery (1920-1933) (divorced)
ZaSu Pitts (January 3,  - June 7, ) () was an American film actress who starred in many silent dramas, although later, her career digressed to comedy sound films. She overcame her unglamorous looks and wallflower tendencies by basing her stage and screen persona on them in scores of comedies.
Her unusual first name was coined from parts of the names, "Eliza," and, "Susan," female relatives who both wanted Pitts' mother to name the child after them. In many film credits and articles, her name was rendered as, Zazu Pitts, or, Zasu Pitts. Though her name is commonly mispronounced as, "Zazz-oo," in her 1930s film shorts with Thelma Todd (see below) it is clearly pronounced, on-screen [by Todd] as, "ZAY-sue". However, her name was consistently pronounced "ZAY-zoo" during her recurrent guest appearances on, Fibber McGee and Molly's show in 1939.
Born in Parsons, Kansas, to Rulandus and Nellie (Shay) Pitts, ZaSu was the third of four children. Her father, who had lost a leg while serving in the 76th New York Infantry Regiment in the Civil War, had settled the family in Kansas by the time ZaSu was born. In 1903, when she was nine years old, they moved to Santa Cruz, California seeking a warmer climate and better job opportunities. Her childhood home at 208 Lincoln Street still stands. She attended Santa Cruz High School, where, despite her shy demeanor, she participated in school theatricals.
Pitts made her stage debut in 1915 and was discovered two years later for films by pioneer screenwriter Frances Marion. Pitts made her debut in the silent film, The Little Princess (), starring Mary Pickford. Pitts became a leading lady in Erich von Stroheim's masterpiece, Greed (); based on this performance, von Stroheim labeled Pitts, "the greatest dramatic actress." Von Stroheim also featured her in his films, The Wedding March (), and Walking Down Broadway (), which was re-edited by Alfred L. Werker and released as Hello Sister.
Pitts grew in popularity following a series of Universal one-reeler comedies and earned her first feature-length lead in King Vidor's, Better Times (). In 1920 she met and married potential matinée idol, Tom Gallery, and paired up with him in several films, including, Bright Eyes (), Heart of Twenty (), Patsy () and A Daughter of Luxury (). Their daughter, Ann, was born in 1922.
In 1924, the actress, now a reputable comedy farceur, was given the greatest tragic role of her career in Erich von Stroheim's epic classic, Greed (), a nine-hour-plus picture, edited to under two hours. The surprise casting initially shocked Hollywood, but showed that Pitts could draw tears with her doleful demeanor as well as laughs. The movie has gained respect over time, having failed initially at the box office due to its extensive cutting.
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. Her brief stint in the Hildegarde Withers mystery series was not well received. By this time Pitts was established as a comedienne, and audiences didn't accept her as a brainy sleuth.
Trading between comedy shorts and features, Pitts earned praises in such heavy dramas as Sins of the Fathers (), The Wedding March (1928), also helmed by von Stroheim, and War Nurse (). By the advent of sound, which was an easy transition for her, she was fully secured in comedy. One bitter and huge disappointment was when she was replaced in the war classic All Quiet on the Western Front () by Beryl Mercer after her initial appearance in previews drew unintentional laughs. She decided, however, to make the most of the situation. She had viewers rolling in the aisles in such wonderful entertainment as The Dummy (), Finn and Hattie (), The Guardsman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (), Sing and Like It () and Ruggles of Red Gap (). She excelled in her comedy partnerships with comedienne Thelma Todd (in short films) and comedian Slim Summerville (in features).
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 who was constantly looking for a husband.
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 (), but in the 1950s she started focusing on TV. This culminated in her best known series role, playing second banana to cruiseline social director Gale Storm in The Gale Storm Show () (also known as Oh, Susannah), as Elvira Nugent ("Nugie"), the shipboard beautician.
Pitts' last role, shortly before her death, was as a voice actress (switchboard operator) in the Stanley Kramer comedy, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (). A street in Las Vegas, Nevada is named after her.
Ill health dominated Pitts' later years after she was diagnosed with cancer in the mid-1950s. She continued to work until the very end, making brief appearances in The Thrill of It All () with Doris Day and James Garner, and the all-star comedy epic, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963). She died June 7 1963 in Hollywood, California, leaving behind a gallery of scene-stealing worrywarts for all to enjoy.