Today is the 100th birthday of the actress Susan Peters. Her real life is more like a Tennessee Williams play than an actual Tennessee William play: the highest of highs and a tragic end. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Susan Peters
AKA: Suzanne Carnahan
DATE OF BIRTH: 3-Jul-1921
PLACE OF BIRTH: Spokane, WA
DATE OF BIRTH: 23-Oct-1952
LOCATION OF BIRTH: Visalia, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Pneumonia
REMAINS: Buried, Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, CA
Hollywood Walk of Fame 1601 Vine St. (motion pictures)
Husband: Richard Quine (m. 7-Nov-1943, div. 1948, one son adopted)
Son: Timothy Richard Quine (adopted)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Susan Peters was an American film, stage, and television actress who appeared in over twenty films over the course of her decade-long career.
Susan Peters was born Suzanne Carnahan on July 3, 1921 in Spokane, WA, but her formative years were spent predominantly in Portland, OR and Los Angeles. She gained her first acting experience in plays at Hollywood High and came to the attention of Lee Sholem, a talent scout and future B-movie director. After acting classes and further stage work, Peters was offered a contract with Warner Brothers. Her first film appearance came with an uncredited bit in the Joan Crawford vehicle “Susan and God” (1940) and she graduated to more screen time and actual billing in the Errol Flynn/Olivia DeHavilland Western “Santa Fe Trail” (1940). After a few more virtually anonymous turns, Peters began to receive bigger opportunities, first in such B-pictures as “Scattergood Pulls the Strings” (1941) and “Three Sons o’ Guns” (1941), and then somewhat more promising fare, like the Humphrey Bogart crime drama “The Big Shot” (1942).
However, it soon became clear that Warner was not interested in doing much with Peters and the studio opted not to renew her contract. Fortunately, she had come to the attention of MGM, which cast Peters in the Marjorie Main dramedy “Tish” (1942). The fitfully entertaining production came and went without much notice, but proved important for Peters: she fell in love with co-star Richard Quine and the pair married the following year. “Tish” had also provided Peters with her first part of any real substance and, impressed with the results, MGM offered her a contract. It was soon decided that she would be the best choice for a role in their romantic drama “Random Harvest” (1942) and it was that film that finally brought Peters notoriety. Cast as the step niece of Ronald Colman Peters’ poignant performance earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Now busy at Metro, Peters’ career followed the usual path for a young contract player on the way up. She was utilized in the franchise entry “Andy Hardy’s Double Life” (1942), as well as B-movies like “Assignment in Brittany” (1943) and “Young Ideas” (1943). Peters was also the female lead of the more prominent production “Song of Russia” (1944), which gained unwanted attention a few years later when it ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee for its pro-Russia sympathies. Sadly, Peters’ life changed forever on Jan. 1, 1945. While out on a family hunting excursion, she picked a rifle up off the ground only to have it discharge and lodge a bullet in her spine. The accident left Peters completely paralyzed from the waist down. After a month in hospital, she recovered enough to be discharged. Peters’ last effort prior to the accident, the Lana Turner “gals in uniform” war drama “Keep Your Powder Dry” (1945), was released in the months that followed and while MGM had been paying her medical bills, Peters asked to be released from her contract.
To her considerable credit, Peters determined that she would not let the condition limit her. After spending some of her initial recovery time writing, she was back working that September in a radio staging of “Seventh Heaven” opposite Van Johnson. She was also able to soon maneuver around effectively in her home and in a specially designed car with hand controls which allowed Peters to drive. In a further extension of her resolve to lead a regular life, Peters also decided to become a mother. In 1946, she and Quine adopted boy whom they named Timothy. Peters also returned to movie screens as the star of “Sign of the Ram” (1948), where she played a wheelchair-bound woman who uses her paralysis as a way of manipulating family members. Unfortunately, it was not a success and no more film offers were forthcoming. During this time, she and Quine also divorced. This was done at Peters’ request, in an apparent attempt to release him from any obligation to care for her.
Peters next turned her attentions to the stage and received good notices for revivals of “The Glass Menagerie” and “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.” In both cases, Peters proved up to the challenge and continued her work in each when they went on tour. Television also offered Peters a new opportunity with the daytime series “Miss Susan” (NBC, 1951). Staged live in Philadelphia, the 15-minute legal serial starred the actress as an Ohio attorney who continues on with her obligations, despite having been disabled in a car accident. However, after production of “Miss Susan” came to an end, Peters sank into a deep depression and spent time in a sanitarium. Although she regained her health sufficiently to do some more stage acting, Peters’ remaining years were spent in a downward spiral of psychological problems and anorexia nervosa. Those conditions, coupled with pneumonia and kidney issues, brought about her passing on Oct. 23, 1952. Peters was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Sign of the Ram (3-Mar-1948) as Leah St. Aubyn
Keep Your Powder Dry (8-Mar-1945) as Ann Darrison
Song of Russia (10-Feb-1944)
Young Ideas (2-Aug-1943)
Assignment in Brittany (11-Mar-1943) as Anne Pinot
Random Harvest (17-Dec-1942) as Kitty
Andy Hardy’s Double Life (Dec-1942) as Sue
Dr. Gillespie’s New Assistant (Nov-1942)
The Big Shot (13-Jun-1942)
Three Sons o’ Guns (2-Aug-1941)
Santa Fe Trail (13-Dec-1940) as Charlotte