Eileen Brennan, who was best known as a comedic actress and the nemesis of Private Benjamin in the film and television show of the same title, died on Sunday age 80 at her Eubank, California residence. She had enjoyed a long career working in film, television, and on stage. Her manager, Kim Vasilakis, confirmed the actress’s death from bladder cancer on Tuesday.
Verla Eileen Regina Brennen was born on September 3, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Regina “Jeanne” Menehan was a silent film actress, and her father, John Gerald Brennen, was a doctor.
Brennan started her career as a popular stage actress on the New York stage. Her comedic timing and soprano voice insured that she won her first award (an Obie)for her first musical comedy performance. She made her film debut in the 1967 film comedy Divorce American Style.
Eileen Brennan worked for 20 years before she garnered rave reviews for her portrayal as the “tougher-than-nails” female Army captain who plagued Private Judy Benjamin in both the original 1980 film and the television series based on the movie.
With her husky voice, Brennan was often cast as gritty, tough, earthy and, often, vulgar characters. She won two awards; a Golden Globe for her performance in the television version of Private Benjamin and an Emmy for her work in Benjamin as well. She was nominated 10 more times for her work in other projects, although one was for the Razzie Award.
The comedic actress worked steadily and her last film was the 2011 Naked Run as Gram Malone. She died age 80 without ever reaching the same sort of popularity that she enjoyed from the Private Benjamin TV show.
It was through television’s Private Benjamin that she gained a lot of fans. Unfortunately Brennan had to leave the show when she was hit by a car while out for dinner with her Private Benjamin film co-star Goldie Hawn. She was critically injured in the accident and she left the show to recover.
While she was recovering, she became addicted to the pain medication and she fought her addiction through treatment and she was diagnosed with breast cancer later, which she survived.
Brennan worked on some of the most iconic films that Hollywood produced. She was in The Last Picture Show and The Sting, before she worked with Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin. She also worked on the 1976 crime spoof film Murder by Death where she played Peter Falk’s “Sam Spade” type character’s secretary and love interest.
Brennan did return to television in 1985 to the sitcom Off the Rack with Ed Asner, but the show was cancelled after six episodes. Unfortunately for the actress, she never got another role that connected with audiences as well as her Army Captain in Private Benjamin.
Eileen grew up in LA and after she finished with Georgetown University, she went to the New York branch of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts where she also worked in summer stock and as a singing waitress.
As she got older, Brennan worked steadily in film appearing in Miss Congeniality 2 and Jeepers Creepers 2 just to name two.
Ms Brennan was a self acknowledged alcoholic before she became addicted to the pain medication after being hit by the car that almost killed her. She was very open about her addictions saying in a 1996 interview that, “It’s so horrible and it can be so disastrous, yet there’s something about the sensitivity of the human being that has to face it. We’re very sensitive people with a lot of introspection, and you get saved or you don’t get saved.”
Eileen Brennan married David John Lampson in 1968 and they divorced in 1974. The comedic actress is survived by her two sons, Patrick and Sam, as well as her sister and two grandchildren. Ms Brennan died from bladder cancer at the age of 80 on Sunday.
By Michael Smith