Family & Companions
A willowy, sensual figure in British cinema and Hollywood during the 1960s and early 1970s, actress Susannah York brought an ethereal quality to unique women in such acclaimed films as "The Killing of Sister George" (1968), "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969), "The Silent Partner" (1978) and "Superman" (1978). She began her career playing innocents, but the depth of her talent, as evidenced in "A Man for All Seasons" (1966) and "The Battle of Britain" (1969), allowed her access to deeper, more fulfilling roles. As a result, she earned a BAFTA and Oscar nod for "Horses," and a Cannes Film Festival Award as a woman struggling with mental illness in Robert Altman's "Images" (1972). York could be seen more on television and the stage in the 1990s and 21st century, but the qualities that made her a star - a delicate balance between fragility and tensile strength - remained intact and kept her a movie lover's favorite until her death in 2011.
Born Susannah Yolande Fletcher in Chelsea, London on Jan. 9, 1939, she was the youngest daughter of merchant banker Simon Fletcher and his wife, Joan Bowring. Her relationship with her father largely ended at the age of five, when her parents divorced and she moved to Scotland to live with her mother's second husband, businessman Adam Hamilton. There, she attended Marr College and St. Cuthmans, where she gained her first acting experience in school plays. York fell in love with the craft and considered applying to the Glasgow College of Dramatic Art, but after her mother's separation from Hamilton and relocation to London, York applied to and was accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There, she was awarded most promising actress, but also ran into scandal when at 18, she fell in love with fellow student Michael Wells, who was married. The couple eventually married and had two children, including actor Orlando Wells, before divorcing in 1976.
In 1959, York was discovered by a Hollywood agent in a production of "Hedda Gabler," and her film career began a year later with the comedy "There Was a Crooked Man" (1960). A delicate beauty, her early roles were frequently along the lines of Alec Guinness' innocent military daughter in "Tunes of Glory" (1960). But her performance in "The Loss of Innocence" (1961) as a teenaged girl whose budding sexuality had an unsettling effect on the adults around her changed the perception. Critical acclaim for the 21-year-old actress led to similarly mature and complex roles, like the deeply traumatized Cecily, patient to Sigmund Freud in John Huston's "Freud" (1962), and Sophie Western, the object of randy Albert Finney's true love in Tony Richardson's "Tom Jones" (1963). In 1966, she played Margaret More, beloved daughter of Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), who delivered the fateful news that he must acquiesce to King Henry VIII's desire to marry Catherine of Aragon or face imprisonment.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw York's film career reach its apex, with brave, challenging performances in films like Robert Aldrich's "The Killing of Sister George" (1968), Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and Robert Altman's "Images" (1972). In the former, she played a slow-witted young woman involved in a abusive, possibly lesbian relationship with Beryl Reid's sadistic television actress, while in the latter, she earned the Best Actress Award at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival as a children's author descending into schizophrenia. "Horses" was the biggest critical and artistic project of the period, a bleak drama about the limits of human greed, envisioned as a Jazz Era dance marathon. York received a BAFTA Award, as well as an Oscar nomination for her fragile would-be actress, but famously turned down the latter recognition because the Academy had given the nomination without asking her.
Following these successes, York seemed to retreat into arthouse-oriented fare like 1974's dark, elliptical "The Maids," based on the play by Jean Genet and co-starring Glenda Jackson, or broad genre pictures like "Gold" (1974), an action drama about treasure hunters with Roger Moore. A few of these efforts were standouts, like Jerzy Skolimowski's eerie "The Shout" (1976), with Alan Bates as a mysterious stranger who comes to dominate the lives of composer John Hurt and his wife, played by York. The Canadian thriller "The Silent Partner" (1978) also had its share of supporters for its taut, violent cat-and-mouse game between bank teller Elliott Gould and psychotic burglar Christopher Plummer, with York as the cool object of Gould's affection. The biggest hit of the period, and from a financial standpoint, of York's career, was "Superman" (1978), which cast her in a bit role as the Man of Steel's mother, Lara, opposite Marlon Brando's Jor-El. York would provide cameos in "Superman II" (1980) and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987), largely because Brando required too large a payment for his brief screen time.
In addition to her acting career, York was a published author, with two children's books to her name, including 1973's In Search of Unicorns, which Altman used as her character's work in "Images." She was also committed to numerous political causes, and a vocal supporter of anti-nuclear causes, as well as Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who was imprisoned for revealing his country's nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986.
York's film career waned in the 1980s after a string of failures like "The Awakening" (1980) and "Falling in Love Again" (1980), which she penned. She also experienced some financial difficulties during the period, which required her to sell an extensive amount of her personal belongings, including artwork and jewelry, to pay her mortgage. Stage and television kept her busy and solvent, including a celebrated 1984 production of "A Christmas Carol" (CBS) with George C. Scott as Scrooge and York as a beatific Mrs. Cratchit. Her children, Orlando and Sasha Wells, joined her in the project as two members of the Cratchit brood. In 1991, she was made an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters, which, as she stated in interviews, was her second greatest pride after her children. The theater proved to be her best showcase in the last decades of her life, with acclaimed performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1990s and in "The Wings of the Dove" (2007), as well as her own one-woman show, "The Loves of Shakespeare's Women." In 2009, she was praised for her work in a trio of Tennessee Williams plays in London. Two years later, York succumbed to advanced marrow cancer on Jan. 15, 2011, just six days after her 72nd birthday.
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made her feature acting debut in "Tunes of Glory"
Played the leading role in "The Greengage Summer"
Played Sophie Western opposite Albert Finney in the Oscar winning film "Tom Jones"
Had featured role as Beryl Reid's lesbian lover in "The Killing of Sister George"
Received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"
Co-starred with George C. Scott in an American television movie of "Jane Eyre"
Won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her role in "Images"
Played Superman's mother on the doomed planet Krypton in "Superman"; reprised her role for its sequels, "Superman II" (1980) and "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace" (1987)
Appeared on the London stage in "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs"
Had a recurring role in the British television series "Prince Regent" as Maria Fitzherbert
First film as co-writer (also actress), "Falling in Love Again"
Starred as Mrs. Crachit in "A Christmas Carol"; again co-starred with George C. Scott (as Ebenezer Scrooge)
Co-starred as Gertrude in a London stage production of "Hamlet"
Toured the United Kingdom in "Amy's View"
Had a recurring role as hospital manager Helen Grant in the BBC1 series "Holby City"
Reprised her role as Helen Grant in two episodes of Holby City's sister series "Casualty"
Appeared in the UK tour of "The Wings of the Dove"
Final film was "The Calling"
Last stage performance was as Jean in Ronald Harwood's "Quartet" at the Oxford Playhouse