Actress Kathryn Joosten has died aged 72 after battling cancer, leaving behind some wonderful performances in two of the most popular and acclaimed TV programmes of the last 15 years, The West Wing (Mrs Landingham) and Desperate Housewives (Mrs McCluskey).
I’m writing this listening to Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits, the song that plays at the end of one of the greatest episodes in TV history, Two Cathedrals from The West Wing. In that episode, President Bartlet wrestles with his own sins and the decision of whether to run for re-election. This is all against the backdrop of the funeral of his friend and secretary, Mrs Landingham, who had just been killed in a car crash. In one memorable moment, after the ceremony, he goes back into the empty cathedral and rages against God.
In typical no-nonsense fashion, Mrs Landingham appears to him (in his mind rather than as a ghost, of course) and talks some sense into him, leading to him deciding to run for re-election to the strains of Dire Straits. Her death played a hugely significant role, but it was sad to see her go after just two seasons. That ‘Mrs Landingham’ is currently trending on Twitter shows the impact she made in her relatively short time in the series, always lighting up the screen whenever she was on, and usually getting all the funniest lines from Aaron Sorkin’s scripts.
Happily for Joosten, her career renaissance was far from over, landing a role as the grumpy-but-lovable Mrs McCluskey on Desperate Housewives, always holding her own against the younger fillies on the show and establishing herself as one of the most popular characters. Ironically, she also had an on-screen sister played by her West Wing replacement, Lily Tomlin and there was even talk a few years ago of them getting a spin-off .
(SPOILER WARNING) Her character also died in the finale of this show recently; with sad realism it was terminal cancer rather than a car crash this time, and she died at home, getting a really lovely ending. Now, she’s sadly passed away in real life too, but her position as an actress allowed her to do a lot for cancer charities after surviving the disease twice. She also did a lot to show that TV doesn’t have to be about glamorous-looking young actresses, and she will really be missed by anyone who has seen her on any of the many shows she made memorable guest appearances on.
Hopefully Mrs Landingham is up there now, bickering good-naturedly with Leo McGarry again.