Susan Peters (1921-1952) has a soft spot in my heart. I may have been the only one who participated in the 20 Actresses Movie meme to have chosen her as one of my top faves. Susan Peters had a soft, unassuming quality that made her mesmerizing yet approachable. She was a quintessential 1940's beauty with gentle features, glistening eyes and soft pouty lips. She had an aura of innocence, understanding and sadness that intrigues me. She always manages to fascinate me whenever she graced the screen. Susan Peters worked with big names such as Olivia DeHavilland, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Greer Garson and Ronald Colman yet in her own quiet way was never overshadowed by these brighter stars.
Peters had a short-lived career with various films in the 1940s. She started off with small roles in 1940 and 1941 under her real name Suzanne Carnahan. She switched to the more Hollywood-friendly name of Susan Peters and in 1942 made a formidable impression on the industry in her role in Random Harvest (1942), a role which got her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. This was the first film I had seen her in and I was immediately drawn to her.
The height of Susan Peter's career was 1942-1944 . Within that time she married film director Richard Quine and folks in the industry saw her as a young star on the rise with lots of potential. She made several films, a few of which got her top billing. In 1944 she filmed Keep Your Powder Dry (1945), a WWII movie about 3 very different young women who join the Women Army Corps (WACS) while the men are off at war. It's a very sweet film about patriotism, love, friendship and self-sacrifice. This just happens to be the favorite of the Susan Peters films I have seen because it showcases her at her most genuine. It also happens to be Susan Peters last hurrah.
Shortly after filming ended, Susan Peters became paralyzed from the waist down, an unfortunate result from a hunting accident, and was wheel-chair bound. Peters made one more film The Sign of the Ram (1948), played Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a stage production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street and was in the 1951 TV series Miss Susan. All of these were valiant attempts to keep her career going despite her disability. However, she went into deep depression, her marriage with Richard Quine ended and her contract with MGM was terminated. She died in 1952 of what most people say was a long, slow suicide in which she lost the will to live and succumbed to starvation.
I often think of what she could have been if the accident hadn't happened, but I don't think her life be overshadowed by her tragic demise. It's really her career and wonderful films that should be celebrated. I hope you will watch one of her films if you haven't already. Luckily, there are several opportunities for you to do this.
Turner Classic Movies (US) is showing 5 of her films in the next few months. Here is the line-up.
Santa Fe Trail (1940) - March 25
Meet John Doe (1941) - April 16
Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (1942) - April 28
The Sign of the Ram (1948) - May 10
Random Harvest (1942) - June 20
Some of Susan Peter's films are on DVD too.
Santa Fe Trail (1940)
Meet John Doe (1941)
Random Harvest (1942)
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