Private Benjamin's Eileen Brennan Dead at 80

Played the 'meanie' drill sergeant, among other roles

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jul 30, 2013 3:48 PM CDT

(Newser) – Eileen Brennan, who went from musical comedy on Broadway to wringing laughs out of memorable characters in such films as Private Benjamin and Clue, has died at age 80 of bladder cancer. Brennan got her first big role on the New York stage in Little Mary Sunshine, a musical comedy that won her the 1960 Obie award for best actress. But it was a series of sharp-tongued roles that won her fans on television and in movies, including gruff Army Capt. Doreen Lewis in 1980's Private Benjamin, aloof Mrs. Peacock in 1985's Clue, and mean orphanage superintendent Miss Bannister in 1988's The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking.

"I love meanies, and this goes back to Capt. Lewis in Private Benjamin," Brennan said in a 1988 interview. "You know why? Because they have no sense of humor. People who are mean or unkind or rigid—think about it—cannot laugh at themselves. If we can't laugh at ourselves and the human condition, we're going to be mean." Private Benjamin brought her a supporting actress nomination for an Oscar. She also won an Emmy for repeating her Private Benjamin role in the television version, and was nominated six other times for guest roles on such shows as Newhart, thirtysomething, Taxi, and Will & Grace.

In this 1980 file image released by Warner Brothers Pictures, actress Eileen Brennan portrays Capt. Doreen Lewis in a scene from "Private Benjamin."   (AP Photo/Warner Brothers Pictures, File)
This 1982 file photo shows actress Brennan Eileen.   (AP Photo/Doug Pizac, File)
This 1983 file photo shows actress Eileen Brennan.   (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
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