Once upon a time, a one-legged Civil War veteran named Rulandus Pitts married a woman named Nelly Shay, and they partook of afternoon delights and made a baby, whom they named Eliza Susan Pitts, after Rulandus’s two sisters. By jamming the end of Eliza into the beginning of Susan, the baby became ZaSu. Because that’s normal.
ZaSu Pitts was born 120 years ago in Kansas and moved to California when she was nine, where she would grow up to star in both silent films and talkies. America’s Sweetheart, Mary Pickford, predicted that people would pronounce the uncommon name as Zaz-oo, as it appears. Pitts however, preferred “Say Zoo,” which is crazy talk because Za does not sound like Say, nor does Su sound like Zoo. So right off the bat, we know ZaSu was a curious dame.
Her first non-extra role was in the 1917 silent film, The Little Princess, as an orphaned slavey (Yes, that’s a word! It means overworked maidservant. Kind of like Cinderella.)
She starred in several Hal Roach films and in a series of comedies with Slim Summerville. Her stock character as a fretful, flustered spinster was immediately recognizable and often imitated in films and cartoons such as Popeye. Pitts peaked in the 1930s, starring in B movies and comedy short films, teamed with Thelma Todd. Here they are with bobbed hair in bed together in On The Loose. Don’t ask.
Her best known series role was playing a shipboard beautician on The Gale Storm Show (1956) in the role of Elvira Nugent (“Nugie”). Here Gale (as Susannah) has just become engaged to an Air Force officer and is shoving her ring in Nugie’s face.
Pitts’s last role was a switchboard operator in the madcap Stanley Kramer comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. If you are old, you have probably seen that one.
In her personal life, Pitts was married to Thomas Sarsfield Gallery, an actor and boxing (yes, Dave) promoter from 1922 to 1933. She bore a daughter and later adopted a son, both with unfascinating names. The ink was still wet on her divorce papers when she married Eddie Woodall, with whom she remained until her death 30 years later in 1963. A book of candy recipes (yes, Liz) called Candy Hits by ZaSu Pitts was published several months after her passing.
I don’t know what she is clutching. A chair?