According to her own account, actress ZaSu Pitts was given her curious cognomen because she was named for two aunts, Eliza and Susan. Born in Kansas, Pitts moved with her family to California, where at age 19 she began her film career. Her first starring role was as an ugly duckling who finds true love in 1919's Better Times. Her calculated vagueness and fluttery hand gestures earned Pitts comedy roles from the outset, but director Erich Von Stroheim saw dramatic potential in the young actress. He cast her as the grasping, money-mad wife in his masterpiece Greed (1924), and she rose to the occasion with a searing performance. Except for a couple of later collaborations with Von Stroheim, Pitts returned to predominately comic assignments after Greed. One exception was her portrayal of Lew Ayres' ailing mother in the Oscar-winning All Quiet on The Western Front (1930), a brilliant piece of work that unfortunately fell victim to the editors' scissors when a preview audience, conditioned to Pitts' comedy roles, broke out in loud laughter when she came onscreen (she was replaced by Beryl Mercer in the domestic version of All Quiet, though reportedly her scenes were retained for some European versions). Established as a top character comedian by the '30s (her oft-imitated catchphrase was "Oh, dear, oh my!"), Pitts co-starred with Thelma Todd in a series of Hal Roach two-reelers, was top-billed in such feature programmers as Out All Night (1933) and The Plot Thickens (1935), and showed up in select character roles in A-pictures. During the '40s and '50s, she toured in Ramshackle Inn, a play written especially for her by George Batson. From 1956 through 1960, Pitts played Elvira "Nugey" Nugent on the popular Gale Storm TV sitcom Oh, Susanna. ZaSu Pitts died in 1963, shortly after completing her final film appearance in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and just a few days after her last TV guest assignment on Burke's Law.
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by Hal Erickson biography