THE DEATH of Suzanne Pleshette was not a shock, but came sooner than expected. Perhaps because of her naturally ballsy nature, one felt even cancer would think twice before duking it out with her to the finish. Pleshette found her greatest fame on TV, as Bob Newhart’s wife on the long-running, classic series. She was the mistress of the sexy, deadpan retort, her voice was a foghorn of innuendo and amused tolerance. (She was to receive a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Jan. 31.) But she began in films, and had she not functioned during the period in which the studio system withered away, she might have had a better screen career. She was a blue-eyed, raven-haired, voluptuous knockout in the Elizabeth Taylor/Jean Simmons/Joan Collins vein. But earthier — a hot character actress, really. There was nothing ethereal or campy about her. She was just … real. I’ve always thought her finest moments onscreen came in her scenes with Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.” There is a surreal duel going on between Pleshette’s dark, bitter naturalism contrasted with Tippi’s hollow, constrained chic, and stiff postures. It’s terrific stuff, full of sexual tension. Hollywood has lost one of its few remaining great dames.