Family & Companions
A lovely and promising actress who worked her way up the ranks at MGM, Susan Peters' career was cut short by one of the worst tragedies to affect the Hollywood acting community during the 1940s. The Spokane native had her first substantial part in the MGM film "Tish" (1942) and soon became a regular player for the studio. Her most famous credit was the celebrated drama "Random Harvest" (1942), where Peters impressed greatly in a supporting capacity. With an Oscar nomination now on her résumé, she demonstrated further promise in such productions as "Song of Russia" (1944), in which she essayed the female lead role opposite Robert Taylor. In a tragic turn of events, Peters was injured in a hunting accident and suffered permanent physical damage, but within a few months, she had resumed acting via radio assignments and was determined to move forward. Her movie days were over after only one more picture, but Peters earned praise for stage performances in travelling revivals of "The Glass Menagerie" and "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," and she also headlined her own television series for a time. The strain of dealing with her injuries contributed to her premature death at age 31. Although the final years of her life were heartbreaking, Peters displayed considerable courage and the praise for her acting, both before and after the tragedy, was well-deserved.
Susan Peters was born Suzanne Carnahan on July 3, 1921 in Spokane, WA, but her formative years were spent predominantly in Portland, OR and Los Angeles. She gained her first acting experience in plays at Hollywood High and came to the attention of Lee Sholem, a talent scout and future B-movie director. After acting classes and further stage work, Peters was offered a contract with Warner Brothers. Her first film appearance came with an uncredited bit in the Joan Crawford vehicle "Susan and God" (1940) and she graduated to more screen time and actual billing in the Errol Flynn/Olivia DeHavilland Western "Santa Fe Trail" (1940). After a few more virtually anonymous turns, Peters began to receive bigger opportunities, first in such B-pictures as "Scattergood Pulls the Strings" (1941) and "Three Sons o' Guns" (1941), and then somewhat more promising fare, like the Humphrey Bogart crime drama "The Big Shot" (1942).
However, it soon became clear that Warner was not interested in doing much with Peters and the studio opted not to renew her contract. Fortunately, she had come to the attention of MGM, which cast Peters in the Marjorie Main dramedy "Tish" (1942). The fitfully entertaining production came and went without much notice, but proved important for Peters: she fell in love with co-star Richard Quine and the pair married the following year. "Tish" had also provided Peters with her first part of any real substance and, impressed with the results, MGM offered her a contract. It was soon decided that she would be the best choice for a role in their romantic drama "Random Harvest" (1942) and it was that film that finally brought Peters notoriety. Cast as the step niece of Ronald Colman Peters' poignant performance earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Now busy at Metro, Peters' career followed the usual path for a young contract player on the way up. She was utilized in the franchise entry "Andy Hardy's Double Life" (1942), as well as B-movies like "Assignment in Brittany" (1943) and "Young Ideas" (1943). Peters was also the female lead of the more prominent production "Song of Russia" (1944), which gained unwanted attention a few years later when it ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee for its pro-Russia sympathies. Sadly, Peters' life changed forever on Jan. 1, 1945. While out on a family hunting excursion, she picked a rifle up off the ground only to have it discharge and lodge a bullet in her spine. The accident left Peters completely paralyzed from the waist down. After a month in hospital, she recovered enough to be discharged. Peters' last effort prior to the accident, the Lana Turner "gals in uniform" war drama "Keep Your Powder Dry" (1945), was released in the months that followed and while MGM had been paying her medical bills, Peters asked to be released from her contract.
To her considerable credit, Peters determined that she would not let the condition limit her. After spending some of her initial recovery time writing, she was back working that September in a radio staging of "Seventh Heaven" opposite Van Johnson. She was also able to soon maneuver around effectively in her home and in a specially designed car with hand controls which allowed Peters to drive. In a further extension of her resolve to lead a regular life, Peters also decided to become a mother. In 1946, she and Quine adopted boy whom they named Timothy. Peters also returned to movie screens as the star of "Sign of the Ram" (1948), where she played a wheelchair-bound woman who uses her paralysis as a way of manipulating family members. Unfortunately, it was not a success and no more film offers were forthcoming. During this time, she and Quine also divorced. This was done at Peters' request, in an apparent attempt to release him from any obligation to care for her.
Peters next turned her attentions to the stage and received good notices for revivals of "The Glass Menagerie" and "The Barretts of Wimpole Street." In both cases, Peters proved up to the challenge and continued her work in each when they went on tour. Television also offered Peters a new opportunity with the daytime series "Miss Susan" (NBC, 1951). Staged live in Philadelphia, the 15-minute legal serial starred the actress as an Ohio attorney who continues on with her obligations, despite having been disabled in a car accident. However, after production of "Miss Susan" came to an end, Peters sank into a deep depression and spent time in a sanitarium. Although she regained her health sufficiently to do some more stage acting, Peters' remaining years were spent in a downward spiral of psychological problems and anorexia nervosa. Those conditions, coupled with pneumonia and kidney issues, brought about her passing on Oct. 23, 1952. Peters was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
By John Charles
Cast (Feature Film)
Began in films, playing bit parts in films including "Susan and God" and "Santa Fe Trail"; in several cases worked using her birth name
Played first leading lady roles in "Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant" and "Tish"
Received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for "Random Harvest"
Signed as contract player by MGM
Received top billing in the film, "Young Ideas"
Promoted from "featured player" to "star" on MGM's list of contract players; others "promoted" that same year included Esther Williams, Margaret O'Brien and George Murphy
Suffered severe spinal injury in a hunting accident
Last film for three years, "Keep Your Powder Dry" (filmed in 1944; released in March 1945)
Returned to features; made her last film, "Sign of the Ram", playing the leading role of a wheelchair-bound character
Last professional work included her TV series debut: played wheelchair-bound lawyer "Susan Peters" on the 15-minute NBC courtroom drama series, "Miss Susan"