23rd Anniversary of Susan Oliver’s Untimely Passing

Posted on May 10, 2013 in News

IN MEMORIAM (2)It was 23 years ago today that Susan Oliver died quietly at the Motion Picture & Television Home in Woodland Hills, at just 58 years old.  Most people didn’t even know she had been struggling with cancer for the previous 8 months.  It was a sad footnote to what was a rather remarkable life, although it had been somewhat disappointing to Susan in recent years. 

At the time of her death, she’d been trying for over 6 years to get the chance to direct again, an opportunity which eluded her (and so many other women at that time).  She’d even tried approaching Paramount about directing an episode of the (at that time) new Star Trek: The Next Generation series (they told her that she lacked the necessary background in complex special effects – for the record, only 2 women directed in that show’s 7-season run: a veteran from England and cast member Gates McFadden, who got the chance to direct one of the final episodes in 1994).

I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for her in the 1980’s, sitting at home and remembering how the phone used to ring off the hook with offers for acting gigs 10-20 years earlier, but in the last decade of her life, she had the opposite experience as a director.  She could still land acting work at will (and occasionally had to, just to keep her union benefits alive).  But, like all but a precious few women in the 1980’s, she found that the director’s chair was almost always filled by a man.  (Actor Gary Conway recently told me the mindset back then was such that a woman director was thought of in the same way as a female professional football player.)

Ironically, things did start to get somewhat better for women directors in the 1990’s (although let’s not kid ourselves – even today, the single-most common characteristic of a successful director is being both white and male).  I wish Susan could have stuck around for the ’90’s, where I’m certain she would’ve been welcome to direct on a number of that era’s television shows.  Unfortunately, her journey ended 23 years ago today, just 5 months into that pivotal decade.

All we can do now is celebrate her brief but fascinating life and the great lengths she went to in trying to push the traditional boundaries defining acceptable roles for women.  Without the pioneering efforts of women like her, things would be as bad today as they were back then…

–GP

53 comments on “23rd Anniversary of Susan Oliver’s Untimely Passing
  1. Shervyn says:

    This post really saddens me. She had so much talent and so much to share with her fellow actors. It’s disgusting that endemic misogyny in our society shut down all opportunities she may have had. Such a waste. Please keep up the good work. The more we show that the patriarchy is not something that in the distant past, but alive with us today the better chance we have of finally overcoming it.

  2. Shak says:

    Did Ms. Oliver marry or have any children ? – unfortunately it seems she died somewhat alone 🙁

    • Yes, sadly she did die somewhat alone. Despite having been engaged and receiving several proposals throughout her life, she never quite did manage to marry or have children (something she really wanted to do). (We talk about this in the documentary…

      • Something in Susaan’s life was holding her back from ‘hearth& home’, there are many things of her personal life that remain a great mystery, we know her from her TV roles, but virtually nothing of her personality or persona. RIP Susan, we fans all enjoyed your TV work.

        • Dawn Karrasch says:

          Susan Oliver once told me that her mother’s astrological reading of Susan’s chart said that she would meet her perfect man when she was 58; another reason, I, her neighbor, was so shocked when she died at 58. I think I truly believed she would. Then, again, maybe she did.

  3. John Vail says:

    As a teenager during the 1960’s, I was fascinated and I suppose, lovestruck, by Susan Oliver’s beauty. My first recollection of her was on an Andy Griffith episode, and The Fugitive. I wish she had lived longer and could have directed and acted in more films/TV. God rest her soul…

  4. Brian McLaughlin says:

    Definitely a remarkable woman.I would have loved to meet her.Maybe when I make my final flight.God rest you and keep you close Susan.

  5. Cindy Hamilton says:

    Watching a Murder She Wrote episode and Susan is playing a nurse. I remember her from growing up in the 60’s. She was an amazing actress.

  6. stephen funicella says:

    I just saw Susan Oliver in an old episode of Route 66 from 1961. I’ve always enjoyed her acting and I’m not easily moved, but hers was one truly and excellent performance! Seek it out , it’s worth it.

  7. P says:

    A very talented, beautiful actress gone much to soon.

  8. Billy Bishop says:

    I loved Susan Oliver. I would watch any show if she was in it. She was so beautiful.

  9. One of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen!

  10. Susan oliver was very gorgeous, lovely eyes.

    • Emily Hayek says:

      I absolutely agree. A stunningly beautiful lady and great actress. If only her life could have been longer and she could have had the busy director career she wanted, if only

  11. Ms.oliver was a talented actress.the look she gave roddy mcdowall in people are alike all over was genuine!

  12. A very beautiful ladi. I am watching Man from uncle with her in the episode. She is so remarkable. I loved her in a Virginian episode @ My 3 Sons as Robbie’s teacher @ Robbie was in love with her….I’m not lesbian…but………
    I DON’T BLAME HIM. She’s just gorgeous!

  13. Ellen says:

    She had the most beautiful eyes…..and her acting was beyond
    terrific…..a real professional !!! May she rest in peace !

  14. Nick Parsons says:

    I remember seeing her on the first star trek episode, her beauty blew me away, I was mesmerised by her stunning looks – I was only five when I first saw her and I never forgot that moment

    • will h says:

      I just watched Susan in the episode of the Andy Griffith show, she had the natural beauty that is rare along with her acting ability.

  15. It was love at first sight, and on the Andy Griffith show I wish I could rewritten that show and made Andy fall like we did!

  16. franki says:

    I remember someone saying of Michelle Pfeiffer ” She was a better actress than someone with her looks needed to be”. I immediately thought this of Susan Oliver, who I remembered from ST & the episode of TZ I found most memorable. I’ve been able to see more of her work with the increase in popularity of Nostalgia Networks on TV and she doesn’t disappoint.

  17. Ervin says:

    I am one year older than Susan Oliver’s birthday and to me she was a very beautiful lady. I have several pictures of her in her prime. She never married and never seemed to date men. Was she gay?

    • We addressed this in the documentary. According to David Hedison (who dated her on and off in the 1950’s and 1960’s), she was “very heterosexual.” We also interviewed others in the documentary who dated her or saw her out with a number of other men around Hollywood. She just never quite settled down and married.

  18. Lexi says:

    There’s a lady that claims to be her daughter.
    I’m not sure if she’s being truthful or she’s just insane.

  19. michael blankenship says:

    Maybe first boyhood crush was seeing her, in black and white on The Untouchables with Robert Stack. RIP.

  20. ana teresa fernandes says:

    Very good work in Alias Smith & Jones with Pete Duel

  21. Kristan says:

    She had a very memorable voice. She was a feminist ahead of her time. She could have done so much more if she had been born later. She would have been a fantastic director. She lived her life to the fullest. She went after what she wanted out of life even though the times kept some things out of reach. Jeffery hunter and Susan had eyes that were so unique. I loved them both as Pike and Vina. No one else could have done those roles as well. The roles were made for them. God Bless You Susan.

  22. W Harswell says:

    But her physical beauty as Vina was all an illusion. She was horribly disfigured when her spaceship crashed. The Talosians didn’t know how to put her back together again, like Dumpty-Humpty. This proves that female beauty is not universal but limited to us human creatures, so enjoy it while you can.

  23. Yes, directing is a ‘hard nut to crack’ for any actor and for an actress, it is especially difficult. Clint Eastwood, Michael Landon, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler and Penny Marshall are some of the few who have successfully moved from before the screen to behind the camera. Continued work as a director, is even more rare. Sometimes TV shows do allow their actors/actresses to perform a few directing jobs directing a few odd episodes of the show. With movies, one eoither stays in one field or the other, switch hitting in the movie business is rare and hard.

  24. bk sturm says:

    I was recently trying to remember the name of a beautiful girl that was in so many shows of one venue of another from back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and all I could remember was her first name—I thought her face was simply awesome, with eyes that captivated you and a smile that was just as awesome. I literally woke up from sleeping tonight with her name on my lips—-she was Susan Oliver, and I came immediately to my computer to google her and she what had become of her. So sad to see she passed years ago—-such a waste of so much to offer—what an incredible beauty—–may she rest well in everlasting peace

  25. myra butler says:

    I am so sorry to read of some of the sad things surrounding the end for this talented stunning actress. I loved seeing her while growing up in all the many old television shows she guest stared in. She was always so captivating with her looks and voice. I saw her tonight for the first time in years on an old episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC. I googled to see what ever happened to her. I did not realize she died at such a young age. RIP Susan Oliver.

  26. carolyn glennon says:

    Watching “Thriller” ( Circa 1961 )
    on a retro channel and saw Susan Oliver. Hadn’t seen her in years and googled her name.
    So sad to learn of her demise many years ago. I always thought she was talented and beautiful.
    RIP sweet Susan. 💐

    • She was great in that one! (Not such a nice girl, either.) Sadly, Larry Bliden (from that episode) also died young, apparently murdered by the side of the road during an antique-hunting trip to Egypt in the mid-1970’s.

  27. John Salay says:

    Susan was the epitome of feminine sexuality without equal. My only problem is that she left us all way before her time.

  28. Jeff says:

    I remember watching TV as a young boy in the 60’s and every time I saw something with Susan Oliver in the episode I was in awe of her natural ability as an actress and unbelievable beauty. Her smile,,,, and those eyes were truly amazing. It’s so hard to imagine that she was not seriously involved deeply with another human being. Susan left this world far too soon. “Thanks for the memories, Susan”.

  29. Tammy Ray says:

    I was watching an old rerun of Andy Griffith tonight. I saw this stunningly beautiful woman. I didn’t recognize her at all. I found out her name was Susan Oliver. She is absolutely the most beautiful woman I think I have ever seen. When Google shows the color photos of her I couldn’t believe it. Her eyes were so amazing. She was the epitome of a sex symbol. No one to this day compares to her beauty. I am a straight woman but I tell you I would consider going the other way if I had a shot with a woman of that caliber of beauty. Such a shame she left the world so young. I admire her for living life the way she wanted to. She didn’t get tied down to a man. I don’t think she would have done half of what she did if she had married. God bless you Susan you are an inspiration. May you rest in peace.

  30. Norman Holbrook says:

    Met her when I was in hospital in Danang Vietnam.It meant a lot to us that she cared enough to visit us.

  31. Gail says:

    I just became aware of this site and love it. How awful that such a talented and interesting woman is so forgotten by so many. I was hoping there was a book about her and looked on Amazon but, no. Susan herself wrote a book but the price for those available is sky-high. I hope you are considering writing one your self about her. What a remarkable person she was. I feel there was so much depth beyond all her ethereal beauty!

  32. SHAN LEE says:

    I was watching an episode of Mannix today & Susan Oliver was in it. Curious I went on line only to find that she passed many years ago. Like the others she was my favorite actress. I`m very sad to hear of her passing & had no idea that it happened to her so long ago. I adored her. My only other favorite actress was Susan Hayward. “SHAN”

  33. Donna Parker says:

    I never really saw her in anything but being on Andy Griffith show where she was the lady jewel theif was in the Mayberry jail Susan Oliver was such a pretty lady. She had Andy & Barney all shook up.

  34. Jack Clay says:

    When I was stationed in combat in Vietnam in 69 and 70, she flew in by helicopter to our outpost to shake hands and talk to troops. I was very much impressed.

  35. Lancelot says:

    So many compliments of Susan’s talent, beauty, etc. I too am awe struck by her talent and beauty. What a shame to throw it all away on her need to find cigarettes more important than her legacy for a long fulfilled life as as an actress, beauty, potential wife and mother. What a waste of a life gone forever, far too soon!

  36. RIP Susan Oliver, the original orion slave girl. A record breaking aviator as well.

  37. Jack says:

    Had a big crush when I saw her on star trek and twilight zone. A talented and very beautiful actress. She had a extremely sexy and feminine way about her. Gone way too soon.

  38. Robert says:

    Just watched “Prisoner of Love” episode of The Andy Griffiths Show first aired 2/10/1964 and had to watch it twice. It was my pleasure to reconnect with a television/screen beauty and talent of my viewing past having watched Star Trek and Mannix. I will continue to seek out “The Green Girl”. Her work and her aura lives on. RIP and thanks.

  39. Yousef Salem says:

    I just watched Susan Oliver on the Andy Griffith episode titled Prisoner of Love and It is the first time I have seen her. I was astounded by her magnificent and incomparable beauty. In my mind I imagine a large field of weeds and unsightly growth and there in the middle is a single rose of such astounding beauty and that lone mind searing rose is Susan Oliver. Yousef Salem.

  40. Najeeb says:

    When I was a child……I had a very “huge” crush on her. I thought she was so beautiful when she starred on the pilot episode of Star Trek. Even as she got older…she always retained an eternal beauty…..that came mostly from the inside.

  41. Jason says:

    Did she get lung cancer from smoking?

    • Not directly: She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1989 (same thing that killed both Elizabeth Montgomery and Carolyn Jones). Although a surgeon managed to remove the tumor and temporarily save Susan’s life, it eventually metastasized into lung cancer. It is generally believed that smoking greatly increases the likelihood of contracting colon cancer, so indirectly, smoking most likely did ultimately lead to Ms. Oliver’s lung cancer and death.

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