Friday, March 20, 2009

No One Ever Thinks of Susan Peters

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)


  1. I'm pretty stoked about Sign of the Ram coming on in May. Been waiting to see that one for years.

  2. Raquelle,
    Now that's a great biography! I must confess she is a new name for me even though i have seen some of the films she's in.

    It's so sad when people are stopped in the middle of something big. Today thaughts naturally go to Natasha Richardson who also had an accident and was halted in the midst of greatness.

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  4. I have this book called Cut about Hollywood deaths and she is included in the book. She lived such a tragic life. I've seen in Random Harvest and Meet John Doe but not much else but I am looking forward to seeing her many more .

  5. What a sad destiny! Makes me feel uncomfortable to read about. How horrible it may sound, I guess that Susan Peters would have been an immortal star if she had been killed in that hunting accident, instead of dying that slow death. If you look at Marilyn Monroe and James Dean for example.

  6. I love her too Raquelle--especially in Random Harvest, unquestionably my favourite amnesiac romance of all time! (and I love amnesia)

    on the personal side, I've always had some trouble feeling as bad for the woman offscreen as I wanted to... as a lifelong vegetarian and proponent of animal rights, I simply cannot overlook the hunting thing... not that I'm saying she deserved to be crippled, mind you...


  7. Hmmm. Its hard to predict who would have been a legend if they didn't die young. I think Marilyn had survived a legend even if she was still alive. She did so much and was instrumental to her time.
    James Dean on the other hand would probably not still be a legend if he lived. Imagine if Marlon Brando had been killed in that Porsche back in '55. I'm sure Brando also would have taken his place as legend. Well well...

  8. What an unfortunate final chapter to her life. I had no idea that she became disabled and eventually died from starvation. It's too bad Peters couldn't have been around longer.

  9. Great post as usual, Raquelle. I wasn't familiar with her, but will DVR one upcoming on TCM and check it out.


  10. I think of Susan Peters, Raquelle!

    They did a night of her movies about two years ago, and that's when I heard about her accident for the first time. I had always wondered what became of her (since I'm a big fan of Random Harvest) - I'll definitely mark those TCM dates on my calendar!

  11. I didn't realize that was her in "Santa Fe Trail" (as she was billed under her real name)!!! That is one of my favorite films.

  12. She's beautiful - i may need to check out her movies.

  13. In 2001, the Homegrown Theater on Broadway debuted a new play by Richard Willett called "Random Harvest" about a playwright who becomes obsessed with the tragic life story of Susan Peters. Here is a link to the review of the play by Matthew Murray:

  14. Thanks for an interesting post, Raquelle. I need to move KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY up on my viewing list.

    (And Jacqueline, very interesting info about the play!)

    Best wishes,

  15. It's so wonderful to come back to a lively bout of commenting. Thank you everyone! I hope you'll all watch her movies soon.

    Jacqueline - thanks for that link! I'll check it out.

  16. Well, this latest entry clears up one thing for me--I always confused Susan Peters with Jean Peters. Now I know who Susan Peters was, and I'm saddened about the tragic way her life turned out.

  17. It is sad how Susan Peters' life and career turned out. I always thought she was one of the most beautiful actresses of the Forties. She certainly stood out in any film she was in. It is sad that she didn't live longer.

  18. I watched most of KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY tonight, thanks to the inspiration of your post, and am enjoying it very much. Hope to finish and post about it on Sunday. :)

    Best wishes,

  19. Great post, Raquelle! It's fascinating to imagine what might have been - one of my favorite pastimes. Susan Peters is wonderful in Random Harvest. She plays her part to perfection. I actually hated her the first time I watched it, because she was standing in the way of Ronald Coleman returning to Greer Garson. I know, I know, I take this stuff way to seriously. :)

    I've seen The Sign of the Ram, too. It's a phenomenal film. Truly powerful and moving. Susan's character comes off as honestly evil - unthinkable for someone who seems so kind and calm in real life.

    I may have Keep Your Powder Dry in my VHS library. I'll have to check. I want to watch it again, now I that remember that Susan Peters is in it!

  20. I think of Susan Peters because she and her husband Richard Quine lived two doors down from us in Malibu CA. She was lovely and I didn't think much of the fact that she was always in a chair with a blanket on her lap. She appeared in a Lux Presents Hollywood radio show "I John Doe" and my family was invited to see what I guess was a recording... although it was in an auditorium with a big audience. We were escorted to the front of the line by Mr. Quine and had dinner with Susan Peters and Richard Quine after the recording. It was exciting, very exciting. Very Old Hollywood. She was a lovely neighbor and always very nice to me. Yes indeed, I remember Susan Peters very well!

    1. Hi BobbyC,

      Your comment got stuck in my comment moderation so I apologize for the delay in this comment posting. That is AMAZING that you knew Susan Peters and Richard Quine. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  21. I was watching Assignment in Brittany w Susan Peters and then my brain took me through a series of steps that lead me to your blog and I wanted to post this I appreciate it very much thank you. I am curious what do you think about the movie the major and the minor it's 1 of my favorites. I would love to talk to you more about stuff like this.

    And now I finish watching the movie thank you.



  22. I've known about Susan Peters my whole life. My mother, who was the flower girl at her wedding with Dick Quine, named me after her. I didn't know much about her until now..I'm astounded at how much information there is about her. My mothers memories of her were from the perspective of a young girl. Many of her memories of her were when she was paralyzed. She said that Susan was always kind to her and treated her with respect.... the only similarity that I have to her is that we both developed pneumonia at the same age. I was very depressed over a love relationship and wanted to die. I became very ill. One night during a fitful sleep I dreamed about her, the dream indicated a similarity between my life at that point and hers. I went to a doctor the next day and was treated.

    I never knew that her original aspiration was to be a doctor. She was a very interesting woman.

  23. one more story from my mother that I remember. Apparently there were those that didn't believe she was really paralyzed. Maybe they thought she was just portraying injured characters or that it was a publicity stunt. At one point, I believe while she was working on the Barrets of Wimplestreet, she became exhausted and ill and went to the hospital. They told her to get up and get on the examination table, and wouldn't believe that she was really paralyzed. She became so frustrated and angry that she crawled to the table and pulled herself onto it, refusing help.


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