Do You Recognize This Woman?
You should. Her image has appeared in the end credits of Star Trek re-runs on a near-daily basis since the late 1960’s. This is Susan Oliver, and it’s no coincidence that Gene Roddenberry sought her out to play the pivotal role in the pilot episode of his ground-breaking new television series.
Arriving in Hollywood at the very end of the old Studio System, she made her mark in a handful of notable films but never quite broke out as a huge star. Yet, Susan Oliver became one of the most photographed women of her era, virtually a household name, the female television guest star of choice between 1957 and 1973. Don’t believe me? Check out her incredibly long resume here:
But that’s not even the half of it: she was also a record-setting female aviator in the 1960’s and 1970’s, having flown across the Atlantic Ocean in 1967 in a single-engine plane. And, she was one of the first women to ever fly a Lear Jet. Moreover, she was an original member of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, and she directed episodes of major TV shows like M*A*S*H in the 1980’s.
The Forgotten Star
And yet Susan Oliver has been almost entirely forgotten today. Dying quietly at the Motion Picture & Television Home in 1990 (at just 58 years old) after a brief struggle with cancer, her legacy has almost been entirely lost. (Thank goodness for Star Trek, which keeps her name aloft in some small way!)
I Decided to Do Something About It
My name is George Pappy, and I’m an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles. You may have even seen my last film, Few Options, which currently airs on the Showtime Networks:
I know what it’s like fighting an uphill battle as a Hollywood outsider, a status Susan Oliver grew to know well as an aspiring female director in the male-dominated Hollywood of the 1980’s. The director’s door opened up to some small degree for women in the 1990’s, but unfortunately, Susan was already gone by then.
I feel strongly that somebody (or something…namely Hollywood) owes her the simple decency of being acknowledged and remembered for her many achievements. And I believe that her rather unusual story is worth telling.
Recognizing that many of Susan’s contemporaries have already passed away, I rushed out and bought a small camera/lighting/sound package and set out to find the ones who are still with us. In the past year, I’ve been traveling the Los Angeles area and the United States (using frequent flyer miles), interviewing people who knew, worked with, flew with, and/or admired Susan Oliver.