Saturday, October 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Suzanne (Somers)!

Happy birthday wishes go out this morning for one of my favorite actresses and heart throbs, Ms. Suzanne Somers!
An Irish American (just like me) she was born Suzanne Marie Mahoney in San Bruno, California, up north near San Francisco, where all of the hippies live. Her mom Marion, was a medical secretary, and her dad Francis, loaded boxcars and was a gardener. Sadly he was also an abusive alcoholic who would have a great impact on Suzanne, and her sisters and brother. She feared being physically assaulted or even murdered by him, and when she was 16 she hit her father over the head with a tennis racket to stop his abuse during a drunken rage. He suffered a concussion, and did not speak to Suzanne for 2 years.
She attended Capuchino High School in San Bruno, though she was diagnosed with dyslexia and was a poor student. The school has long been known for its music and drama programs, where Suzanne excelled, and won a scholarship to the San Francisco College for Women, but became pregnant after six months. She married the child's father, Bruce Somers, and Bruce Somers Jr. was born in 1965, her only natural child. She kept her married name but divorced her husband after two years (she got caught fooling around with a former drama teacher), and turned to modeling in San Francisco (as she was very pretty... for a girl) to provide for herself and her son. It was around this time that Suzanne auditioned for Playboy's Playmate of the Month, which included taking a series of test photos (test photos) in a jungle in Mexico. Not to get graphic here, but these "test" pictures were of Suzanne fully nude except for a small chain across her waist. This was odd because Playboy at the time did not publish pictures of fully nude ladies. Anyway, she got $3,000 for the shoot, but Playboy decided not to use her. Not until she became successful and famous later that is (shameless bastards), in layouts published in 1980, and 1984. In the interest of full disclosure, those pictures have been a great source of inspiration for me as a young man... well they still are... if I happen to accidentally come across them somehow. I will forever be exceptionally grateful to her for these, and am entirely in her debt.
She got a job as a prize model on "The Anniversary Game," a show hosted by Alan Hamel, a Canadian and her future husband. He was married at the time, but they began dating and Suzanne wound up pregnant again. This time however she (and Alan) decided to have an abortion, after which she suffered severe bleeding for several days. When he was 6 years old her son Bruce was badly injured after being hit by a car. The therapist working with Bruce afterwards only charged Suzanne a dollar a week, because that was pretty much what she could afford. She herself underwent therapy to help deal with the problems she suffered through during her childhood (she would later become quite a successful entrepreneur and author of many diet and health books, and would pen at least three on her experiences as a child with an alcoholic father, how her brother and sister also became alcoholics, and how they all received help through therapy). During this time she was getting small parts in films and on television, two notable roles being the "Blonde in the T-Bird" in George Lucas's "American Graffiti," and a naked girl in a pool who gets shot and killed in the Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry film, "Magnum Force." She initially won the role of "Jill Munroe" in "Charlie's Angels," but lost it to Farrah Fawcett.
In 1977 the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) produced a remake of a British sitcom entitled "Man About the House." Three other actresses where hired to play the part of "Chrissy," in the new show, two of them appearing in pilots before Suzanne was finally chosen to get the part. And on March 15th, 1977, Chrissy Snow was introduced to the American public in "Three's Company."
This is how I first became aware of Ms. Somers, and her work. I became thoroughly enamored of the character of Chrissy, as did many men, I'm almost positive. A somewhat innocent, ditzy gorgeous, and loveable blonde who wasn't all that bright, but was certainly sincere and appealing. "Somers' popularity on the highly rated-sitcom was due to the fact that Chrissy wasn't an airhead; she just had a different route to logic." (I wouldn't feel the same way toward another fictional television character until Kelly Bundy came along in "Married with Children," sans the innocence). I fell in love with Chrissy, and by extension Suzanne Somers who I thought might be like her creation.
I even had the opportunity one time to attend a taping of "Three's Company," at the CBS Television Studios, in Studio City (the same place we went to see "The Price is Right," which didn't happen (see, The Price is Right, from April 2009). This was before I entered the navy (in May of 1978) as Norman Fell and Audra Lindley (the Ropers) where still there before beginning their own spinoff show in 1979. I remember being paralyzed with admiration whenever Suzanne came on the set, and she did very well. Only Norman fouled up his lines once. The show became a big hit, in a large part to the writing, John Ritter's comedic brilliance, and Suzanne's flair for comedy as well, mixed with the incredible sex appeal of Chrissy Snow. The show racked in record ratings, breaking barriers at the time as the highest-rated mid season show ever broadcast on network television. Suzanne became a national sensation, and won the People's Choice Award for "Favorite Actress in a New Television Series" in 1978.
The same year "Three's Company," debuted, and unfortunately for me (although I did not know it at the time, and ABC wasn't going to publicize it), Suzanne married Alan Hamel, and he became her manager. They've been together ever since.
I guess I was watching the show in reruns after I got out of the service, as I recall seeing it with my future second wife, Debra, in our house in Manhattan Beach, along with "Laverne and Shirley," and "Happy Days." I would watch Suzanne with my tongue hanging out while proclaiming, "God, what a fox!" My future wife looked on with tolerant amusement (she kind of resembled Ann Margaret, so didn't have mush to worry about).
For some reason Suzanne's nickname became "The Queen of the Jiggles." I don't know why. (5' 5½", 35C-23-34).
Well while I was in the service, at the beginning of the show's fifth season, when contract negotiations were in effect, Suzanne demanded a large raise believing the show's success was due in a large part to the popularity of her character. She wanted a raise from $30,000 to $150,000 an episode and 10% ownership of the show's profit. ABC denied her request, and she began acting out, boycotting the 2nd and 4th show of the season pretending to be hurt or sick. She finished out the season, and her contract, but her role was reduced to 60 seconds per episode (She was escorted by a security guard to a sound stage behind the set, where she filmed her few scenes, because she was no longer allowed on the set with costars Ritter and Joyce DeWitt. Suzanne and DeWitt did not speak for almost 20 years). Needless to say her contract was not renewed.
Suzanne was right. Except for the first six episode season in 1977, the next three seasons with Suzanne in them, "Three's Company," ranked #3, #2, and #1 in the nation respectively. During the fifth season when Chrissy's role was diminished the show ranked #8. After she was replaced by Jenilee Harrison, and after Harrison was replaced with Priscilla Barns, the ratings dropped decidedly, the last three seasons ranking #4, #6, and #35 respectively. Then it was canceled.
Suzanne's reputation in Hollywood was tarnished however, and she took off to become an entertainer in Las Vegas, just like our friend Cassandra Peterson. She began writing books, and during the 80s was the national spokeswoman for the Thighmaster, a piece of exercise equipment that is squeezed between one's thighs (which made for some fairly interesting commercials). Thighmaster was one of the first products responsible for launching the infomercial concept, and so should be damned for all eternity (kids, they used to show old movies in the middle of the night).
In 1986 Suzanne was named Las Vegas' Female Entertainer of the Year. In 1990, she returned to network TV, appearing in numerous guest roles and made-for-TV movies, mostly for the network that had previously fired her, ABC. In 1991, she returned to series TV by starring in the sitcom "Step by Step," with Patrick Duffy, a show for some reason I never saw (not even one episode). Despite my lack of patronage the show was very successful, and ran for seven seasons. After that show ended she cohosted a revised "Candid Camera," for two years with the show's founder's son, Peter Funt.
In 2001, Suzanne was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy, and radiation, but declined to undergo chemotherapy. She is an advocate for bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which is a form of alternative medicine, and seems to be very controversial.
However, she has written about this aspect of her life extensively, including the book "Knockout," concerning alternative treatments to chemotherapy, for which she has received criticism from those know it alls at the American Cancer Society.
In 1990, she founded the Suzanne Somers Institute for the Effects of Addictions on Families, in Palm Springs, CA. and in 1991, won the Humanitarian Award from the National Council on Alcoholism.
On January 24th, 2003, Suzanne Somers received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
"My goal in life is to become the person my dog thinks I am."
Well Ms Somers, you've certainly been an inspiration and influence in my life, for many, many years, and I will always remember you with great warmth and affection.
All of us here at Joyce's Take wish you and your family continued success, good health, and much happiness.
Happy Birthday Suzanne!

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