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Susan Peters
Susan Peters - The Sign of the Ram press photo.jpg
Peters in 1948
Suzanne Carnahan

(1921-07-03)July 3, 1921
DiedOctober 23, 1952(1952-10-23) (aged 31)
Cause of deathPyelonephritis and pneumonia induced by starvation[a]
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.
EducationHollywood High School
Years active1940–1951
Richard Quine
(m. 1943; div. 1948)

Susan Peters (born Suzanne Carnahan; July 3, 1921 – October 23, 1952) was an American film, stage, and television actress who appeared in over twenty films over the course of her decade-long career. Though she began her career in uncredited and ingénue roles, she would establish herself as a serious dramatic actress in the mid-1940s.

Born in Spokane, Washington, Peters was raised by her mother in Portland, Oregon and later, Los Angeles. Upon graduating from high school, she studied acting with Austrian theater director Max Reinhardt, and signed a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures. She appeared in numerous bit parts before earning a minor supporting role in Santa Fe Trail (1940). She made her last film for Warner Bros. in 1942, the film noir The Big Shot opposite Humphrey Bogart and Richard Travis; after its release, Warner opted not to renew her contract.

In 1942, Peters appeared in a supporting role in Tish, which resulted in her signing a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). The same year, she had a featured role in the Mervyn LeRoy-directed drama Random Harvest, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and established her as a serious dramatic performer. Peters went on to appear as the lead in numerous films for MGM, including roles in the romantic comedy Young Ideas (1943), and several war films: Assignment in Brittany (1943), Song of Russia (1944), and Keep Your Powder Dry (1945).

On New Year's Day 1945, Peters's spinal cord was damaged from an accidental gunshot wound, leaving her permanently paraplegic. She returned to film portraying a wheelchair-bound villain in The Sign of the Ram (1948). Peters then transitioned to theater, appearing as Laura Wingfield in a critically acclaimed 1949 production of Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, which was slightly altered to allow Peters to perform in a wheelchair. She followed this with a production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, in which she portrayed crippled poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. By 1952, however, Peters had been suffering from clinical depression for several years due to the dissolution of her marriage and her limited career options. In late 1952 she began starving herself, which combined with her paralysis led to chronic kidney infections and pneumonia. She died of ensuing health complications that year at age 31.

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  • ✪ CHRO Conversations: Susan Peters - GE


Welcome to another CHRO Conversation hosted by the Center for Executive Succession at the Darla Moore School of Business. I am your host Anthony Nyberg, and today we are speaking with Susan Peters, senior vice-president of HR for GE and she is responsible for the global workforce of about 300,000 employees located in over 175 countries around the world. Thank you very much for joining us today, this is really a great treat for us. Thanks Anthony. So the first thing that everyone wants to know is, kind of in general, what is it that HR does to help with fulfilling an organizational strategy, but to get to that point what are some of the real challenges that you're facing at GE these days? Well as with any organization, I think one of the biggest challenges is just change. We've just had a new CEO, so that's change, change of leadership, there's change of environment, I think the world markets are continuing to evolve so there's always that, there's geopolitical change and risk that evolves all the time, but perhaps one of the biggest changes that we're dealing with now is just the ever-present technical change both being in the digital space, the use of technology and the work that people do, and I think the essence of what we have to do in HR is help people handle that change. There's lots of ways to do that, obviously if you're a small organization you can focus on the work at hand and really train people, when you're doing it at scale, you're doing it much more from a cultural perspective so that people have the right approach and attitude about change and I think that's one thing that we've been focused on in HR. So that's really interesting because people don't often associate HR with technology in a clear connection like that, and you're talking about having to help people even embrace it and understand it, are there specific things you do to create a culture where people are open to that kind of change? Well first of all I think it's about experience, people are more comfortable when they've had an experience in which they use the technology that enables them to understand it, so we're doing quite a bit of work ensuring that individuals have all the tools and access, and I'm talking not just the tools that you and I would use daily, but understanding how to use a data lake, understanding how to leverage the technology capabilities that exist so there's quite a bit of skills training that is happening now in HR and then beyond HR to ensure that people are ready for the technical uses, one of the best examples is when you put a horizontal team together to solve a problem and you have people from a variety of functions from the design world, from the manufacturing world from the marketing and selling part of it, all coming together to solve let's say product cost and they work as a horizontal team using the information from all functions, so what you might see is that instead of people approaching that problem solution through their lens, their vertical lens, they're now doing it in a very horizontal way with information in a data lake that's provided by everybody and that's the kind of experimentation that you have to do to ensure people get practice. That's how the organization and the culture eventually moves forward. So it's very interesting, that discussion about change and what HR's involvement is throughout that, what do you do and what does GE do specifically to help create an environment where you're really developing talent that appreciates this sort of change in continual adaptation? Yeah, I think there is a real essence to that question because if you don't get it right with your talent development, they don't come because they understand through the employment brand of your entity that you don't develop talent and they don't stay, so this is foundational, so the way we think about it is that we believe everybody in HR or in any other function should be in a situation or a job in which they are stretched. I would almost use the word uncomfortable because most learning happens when people are outside of their comfort zone, so the first thing you want is for people to have more work either qualitatively or quantitatively than they probably can handle. Once they're in that role that's bigger than they think they can handle, you then really want visibility, accountability, and feedback. So we really think about it that way making sure that the individual has visibility, people see what they're doing and they feel that. Accountability, we hold people accountable, outcomes matter, what did you deliver, when? How? And then feedback and the coaching and feedback part of this is massive, I would say particularly in the early part of the career but that doesn't stop and frankly it might even be harder to do it later in the career, but it's equally important then. So I'd say that's the formula, stretch, or a level of being uncomfortable and then visibility, accountability, and feedback. So that is really interesting to me the visibility, accountability, and feedback in particular, but the idea of telling people that they're going to be better and you're going to be developing them by pushing them beyond where they're comfortable, so can we use that for our students now that can be my excuse for why we overwork them? Sure, well I do believe that people work to the expectation level that is set and the expectation level has to be quite high and what we know about people in leadership is that if the expectation curve is going like this, but their growth curve well on an upward trajectory is only like this over time, that gap gets bigger and they're no longer capable to do the role, so they have to both understand the level and sort of trajectory of the expectations and equal it or beat it, and in today's world, which is complicated and changing quickly, the addition of technology as we've talked about, the context of the world geopolitically or otherwise, this is really hard, people have to, you know, be sort of on an upward treadmill a long time. The wonderful thing is that I think it's what excites people, the challeng,e the opportunity to grow, people like to grow, they want line of sight to something that's going to stretch them and challenge them, so that's the good news. It actually sounds like a great lesson for all of society, that people will do better when we set higher expectations and HR is like in so many things, it's leading the way in in helping that and particularly HR at GE. Well I think that's true Anthony, we like to think about human resources, our talent development, almost like product development and we know from all of the interfaces we have with the products that you and I interface with, that products get better and different all the time. We probably aren't using the same cellphone that we used five years ago because the capabilities have increased. Well really the same is true with people and people development, so we as HR product developers need to think about it that way, what is the next level of expectation around people and leaders and how do we help them get there? You know you and I aren't the same people we were five years ago, we wouldn't really want to be known as that person, so we have to be thinking about what's next and help people almost see around corners to what is that next capability that they need to have. How does an organization like GE with over three hundred thousand employees both encourage people to be heard and at the same time balance that with the need for everyone to be respectful and professional and keeping a really inclusive workplace? Well I think it's an accurate observation of the societal point that we're at and I suspect it will only increase with time and we of course do get individual comments, push back, feedback from employees all over the world all the time, we've used some tools and technology that I think are helpful in this vein, we actually have a place where anybody can ask any question of our CEO and then that question gets voted up based on the number of people who like it, in other words you use the same technology that we use as consumers to decide what does the environment really want to hear about? So weekly we literally take an iPhone and ask John Flannery to answer a few questions and sometimes they're HR specific, so I might answer one and we take that very quick video and put it back out, but we basically respond to the questions that have gotten the most votes and if a question is so individual that it doesn't get votes, it's sort of like the internet, it's a balancing, it's the the governing body of the community decides what to respond to, so obviously if individual notes or questions come in directly to me or to the CEO, we respond to them, we have it followed up by the business team or whomever, you want to make sure you have an open environment and that people feel they can ask the questions but when you're trying to solve for every question, you use some of these great technical tools to determine which are the most important to respond directly to the organization on. So as we were talking, you have mentioned that you are actually have been part of four different CEOs at GE, which is really quite a remarkable feat. Can you share with us some of the things that particularly in your role as CHRO that HR or in general, companies need to do to help new CEOs acclimate to their new role? So it's a great question, obviously I was not involved in some of those earlier successions, Reg Jones to Jack Welch, but I knew Jack quite well, Jack to Jeff Immelt, not directly involved in that but certainly very much mid to senior career at that point and then the most recent succession from Jeff Immelt to John Flannery and obviously extremely involved in that one. So that's exactly the point we're at, which is how do you make sure that a CEO transitions well and has a platform for success and I think there are several tenants to it, the first is getting the right CEO, we feel great about that, the second is ensuring that the employees, particularly in a large complex company like GE, 300 plus thousand people in 170 plus countries around the world, get to know this person, we are a leader-centric culture, not just GE, but I think most institutions are leader-centric so people want to know them, now luckily today we're advantaged by technology and I mentioned earlier that we do sort of a weekly, very quick three, five-minute video answering questions getting to know him, we're doing weekly calls with all of our officers in the company just to ensure there's a rhythm of what's going on in the company and to get to know John. We've done more direct content and contact with John and his direct reports physically together and then about every two to three weeks time together. So there's a very explicit process we're going through to ensure people get to know him as a leader and as a person and I think both those aspects are important. The second thing of course is how does he get to know the breadth and scope of the role? Luckily in GE and particularly with John, he has started a lot of new jobs. I mean we were very intentional about the development steps we would put him through to prepare him to become the CEO and so he's been in a lot of new jobs, we sent him to India in 2009, he took the corporate BD job in 2012, he began the CEO of our healthcare business in 2014, and my point is that starting a new job, whatever level it is, including at the CEO level, requires a certain understanding of the scope of the work and what's new and different so we're doing a lot of sessions on sort of everything you ever wanted to know but we're afraid to ask kind of things and that's the process that we're in right now and he digs deep, he asks a lot of questions, I think that's the most robust approach to the process. It's really interesting, I think a lot of people wouldn't fully appreciate that someone who's been so well groomed to become the leader of a great organization would, the people wouldn't know who that is so there you're spending some time having people get to know him in this case, and at the same time that he might not have a really complete grasp of every aspect of the organization. Yeah my sense is that would be true in any situation, in any organization, it's certainly true in GE which is so big and so complex, multiple businesses, each business being a large entity in and of themselves, the business he ran previously, our health care business, is a twenty billion dollar business in and of itself, so a very important part of the portfolio and he had his heads down working on health care. In GE there is some introduction across, then the portfolio that has to be done, both getting to know him as a person and content and that's really the what we're doing is trying to ensure that that's done well and it doesn't take that long because the leadership team of the company comes together and is connected in many ways and we have a lot in common, what we call the GE store which is the the horizontal connectedness of the company, which is the fact that we have a common research approach from a global research center, that we have a common global growth organization meaning the way we approach the particularly emerging markets and frankly a common HR approach which is the backbone of the company in many ways. A common culture, a common set of beliefs, a common set of leadership tenants that people use to be one, even though they're in different industries so all of that is already sort of a check mark, it's just the deep understanding of the financial and technical aspects of the other businesses. So that's really remarkable how you talk about HR in some regards to being the backbone of the company which we of course agree with completely here but can you talk a little bit about your role as an executive and in terms of because HR is such a critical role, and as we've talked about GE has done an amazing job over the years for this, but what is your interaction as a member of the executive team coming from the HR perspective? Well, I'd say I'm a member of the business team with HR perspective and we're all trying to make the best business decisions and business outcomes and of course my role is to not only represent and advocate for employees, but to understand the areas of expertise that have to be contributed, whether you're adding talent or taking talent out, who the talent is, organizational structure and design, labor relations, obviously compensation and benefits are a huge part these days of the cost of a company and therefore the complexity, how you design your your compensation programs to ensure your motivating people in the right way, and this is so much a part of the business discussion these days that it really is just a member of the business team. I'm also, as would be any HR person, sort of the coach and maybe friend to a lot of my peers and colleagues sort of a safe place to go with questions and concerns, I think that's an important role that the CHRO plays when the stakes are high and these leaders are in massively large and important and impactful jobs that they also have a place for their own feedback and learning and support and so it's an interesting combination of, if you will, the hardware and the software of the HR job. You know it's hard interviewing you because everything you say leads to so many additional questions I'd like to know, so but on one part of that you're talking about you lead with business first which is really interesting and what we certainly preach to all of our master students, but this last part that you said also is really interesting to me that, how about being kind of the coach to the rest of the team. So often we forget that the executive team could be more functional if they were more of a team and in some regard you see your role is helping that? Absolutely. You know, you take suggestions for improvement, process improvement or individual improvement from anywhere that it comes, but I do see my role as the person who might best be able to facilitate it and make it happen, so how and when, and where we came together when John Flannery first became the CEO was something that I orchestrated, certainly I sought the advice and input from a variety of people, both peers and others so that I could gain perspective but ensuring it happened and it happened in the right way, something that we facilitate and it's definitely a part of the role to ensure that the leadership team functions exactly as that, as a team, and we believe, I think most organizations believe, that you get better outcomes when you operate as a team, and that's what we're here to do is get the best outcome so we're all in. This has truly been fascinating for me and great fun, so thank you very much for joining us. You're very welcome, thank you for having me. You just listened to another CHRO Conversation. Today, Susan Peters of GE shared her views regarding why creating an effective HR function is essential to the success of every organization and she shared with us some of the secret tools that GE uses well to lead the world in developing HR talent. As you also heard, the challenges facing the new generation of HR professionals are immense but interesting, making HR the function that is critical and fun. On behalf of all of us who are associated with the Masters of Human Resource program here at the University of South Carolina and the Center for Executive Succession, thank you for joining us.


Life and career

1921–1939: Early life

Peters was born Suzanne Carnahan on July 3, 1921 in Spokane, Washington, the elder of two children born to Robert and Abby Carnahan.[4] Her father was a civil engineer of Irish descent, while her mother was of French descent, and a grand-niece of Robert E. Lee.[5] Peters had one younger brother, Robert Jr., born in 1923.[4][5] Shortly after her birth, the Carnahan family moved to Portland, Oregon.[5][6] In 1928, her father was killed in a car accident in Portland,[4] after which the family relocated to Seattle, Washington,[b] and later to Los Angeles to live with Peters' maternal French-born grandmother, Maria Patteneaude, a well-known dermatologist.[5][c]

Peters was educated at Laird Hall School for Girls, the LaRue School in Azusa, California, and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in Los Angeles.[9] During her years in high school, she worked after hours in a Los Angeles department store, earning money to help support her mother and brother.[10] Peters's mother supported herself and her two children by working in a dress shop and managing an apartment building.[9] "We were poor but we managed, and we had fun," Peters recalled of her upbringing.[9] She was an avid swimmer and tennis player, and also grew up riding horses; her talent as an equestrian allowed her to earn additional income by breaking and showing other people's horses.[9]

Peters transferred to Hollywood High School during her senior year, and began taking drama classes in which she opted to enroll in place of cooking courses: "I took a drama course instead of a cooking course because I thought it was easier," Peters said. "Acting meant money, and [my family] needed money."[9] While still in high school, she signed with a talent agent.[9] She graduated from Hollywood High School in June 1939, along with Jason Robards, Sheila Ryan, and Dorothy Morris as members of her graduating class.[9] With a newfound interest in acting, Peters earned a scholarship to the Max Reinhardt School of Dramatic Arts.[11]

While performing in a showcase production of Philip Barry's Holiday at the Reinhardt School,[11] Peters was spotted by a talent scout for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), who gave her a walk-on part in George Cukor's Susan and God (1940).[12] During the shoot, Peters was reportedly so nervous that she fainted in front of the camera.[13] Despite her apprehension on set, Peters became a protégée of Cukor, who personally assigned her to private acting lessons with drama coach Gertrude Vogler.[14] Cukor believed Peters had star potential, but needed to not "talk through [her] nose."[15] He later recalled that she reminded him of "a young Katharine Hepburn. Not as aggressive as Kate, but that same finishing school appearance and drive."[9]

1940–1941: Contract with Warner Bros.

Peters in an early 1941 portrait for Warner Bros. as Suzanne Carnahan
Peters in an early 1941 portrait for Warner Bros. as Suzanne Carnahan

In early 1940, Peters screen tested for Warner Bros. Pictures, who subsequently offered her a contract.[11] Then credited under her birth name, Suzanne Carnahan, Peters was cast in various small parts in Warner Bros. films; many these were uncredited bit parts or walk-on roles, such as in River's End, The Man Who Talked Too Much, Money and the Woman, and Always a Bride (all released in 1940).[16] She had her first credited role in the big-budget Western film Santa Fe Trail (1940), opposite Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. In the film, Peters portrayed a young woman from Boston in love with a Kansas military officer.[11] During the press junkets to promote the film, Peters found interviews overwhelming, and later admitted: "I wasn't a good sport. I locked myself in my compartment during most of the trip."[11]

After Santa Fe Trail, Peters had small roles in The Strawberry Blonde, Meet John Doe, Here Comes Happiness (1941), and Scattergood Pulls the Strings (all 1941), the latter of which earned her favorable reviews.[17] She then had a lead role as an ingénue in the comedy Three Sons o' Guns (1941), followed by a dramatic part playing the girlfriend of a convict in The Big Shot (1942), opposite Richard Travis and Humphrey Bogart.[17] She was also in shorts such as Young America Flies (1940) and Sockaroo (1941).[18] At the urging of the studio (who initially suggested she change her name to Sharon O'Keefe), she dropped her birth name and took the stage name Susan Peters.[9][19] By 1942, however, Warner Bros. chose not to renew her contract.[20]

1942–1944: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and critical success

Peters photographed by Clarence Sinclair Bull promoting Tish (1942)
Peters photographed by Clarence Sinclair Bull promoting Tish (1942)

Several months after being dropped by Warner Bros., Peters was contacted by MGM to test for a supporting role in the film Tish (1942), a loose adaptation of a series of stories by Mary Roberts Rinehart.[21] She won the role and also signed a contract with the studio.[21] At the time, Peters was one of the most screen-tested actresses in Hollywood.[22] While filming Tish, Peters met future husband, actor Richard Quine, with whom she also starred in her second film with MGM, Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (1942), alongside Van Johnson.[23] Quine and Peters later married on November 7, 1943 at Westwood Community Church in West Los Angeles.[24]

After completing filming of the comedy Andy Hardy's Double Life (1942) in which she had a lead role,[25] Mervyn LeRoy cast Peters in the drama Random Harvest,[26] in which she portrayed a young woman who falls in love with her step-uncle.[25] The film was one of the top 25 highest-earning films of the year,[25] and Peters's performance garnered her critical acclaim, earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[27]

The success of Random Harvest led MGM to give Peters lead roles in other major pictures such as Assignment in Brittany (1943), in which she portrayed a French peasant girl.[25] This was followed with a minor but top-billed credit in the comedy Young Ideas (1943) with Herbert Marshall and Mary Astor, directed by Jules Dassin.[25] She was subsequently cast as the female lead in Song of Russia (1943) opposite Robert Taylor.[24] The role earned her further critical acclaim, with a review in The Hollywood Reporter noting her as "a dramatic actress of the first rank."[24] The film however was controversial, as its portrayal of the Soviet Union was interpreted by some audiences and critics as being favorable and of a pro-Communist stance.[24]

In early 1944, Peters was one of ten actors who were elevated from "featured player" status to the studio's official "star" category; the others included Esther Williams, Laraine Day, Kathryn Grayson, Van Johnson, Margaret O'Brien, Ginny Simms, Robert Walker, Gene Kelly, and George Murphy. An official portrait taken of MGM's contracted players during this period prominently features Peters sharing the front row with the head of the studio himself, Louis B. Mayer, and alongside such actors as James Stewart, Mickey Rooney, Margaret Sullavan, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr, and Greer Garson.[28] In late 1944, Peters filmed Keep Your Powder Dry, a war drama co-starring Lana Turner and Laraine Day,[20] in which she portrayed the humble wife of a soldier.[29]

1945–1950: Injury and career decline

On January 1, 1945, Peters and husband Quine, along with his cousin and cousin's wife, went on a duck hunting trip in the Cuyamaca Mountains near San Diego.[30] At one point during the trip, Peters attempted to reach for a rifle, which accidentally discharged through her abdomen.[31][32] She was rushed to Mercy Hospital, roughly 65 miles (105 km) away, and underwent emergency surgery.[30] The bullet (shot pellets) damaged Peters's spinal cord, leaving her permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and she was required to use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.[1] Keep Your Powder Dry premiered three months after the incident, on March 8, 1945.[33] Peters's mother, who had maintained a bedside vigil during her stay in the hospital, died nine months later in December 1945, which left Peters even more distraught.[34]

Peters driving in October 1947; her vehicle was refitted with a hand-accelerator and brakes to allow her to drive after her paralysis
Peters driving in October 1947; her vehicle was refitted with a hand-accelerator and brakes to allow her to drive after her paralysis

MGM continued to pay Peters a $100 weekly salary and medical expenses, but, unable to find suitable projects, she subsequently left the studio.[35] She later recalled: "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer kept sending me Pollyanna scripts about crippled girls who were all sweetness and light, which I kept turning down. Two years after my accident, I gave up and broke my contract. I won't trade on my handicap."[36] Among the projects offered to her were Joe Pasternak and Henry Koster's The Unfinished Dance (1947), a remake of Jean Benoît-Lévy's Ballerina.[36] In the film, Peters was offered the role of a ballerina who receives a spinal injury that leaves her unable to perform, but she declined.[36] Just prior to her injury, she had begun filming the drama The Outward Room.[36] The film's producers considered completing the project with stand-ins and refitting the script to allow Peters to appear in a wheelchair, but the project was ultimately shelved.[36]

Upon leaving MGM, Peters was approached for numerous acting jobs on radio programs.[36] She guest starred on a December 11, 1945 episode of Seventh Heaven, opposite past film co-star Van Johnson.[36] In 1946, Peters and husband Quine adopted a son, Timothy Richard.[6] The same year, Peters made her first public appearance since her accident at Ciro's in West Hollywood, attending the debut of Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra along with her close friend Lucille Ball.[36] Ball and Arnaz urged Peters to continue seeking acting work.[36] Actor and friend Charles Bickford suggested that Peters option the novel The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson, which centers on a crippled woman who manipulates those around her.[36] Upon discussing the novel with her agent, Peters pitched the idea to Columbia Pictures, who were enthusiastic about making a film adaptation.[37]

Peters being visited by the Paralyzed Veterans Association on set of The Sign of the Ram (1948)
Peters being visited by the Paralyzed Veterans Association on set of The Sign of the Ram (1948)

Production on The Sign of the Ram began in July 1947 with director John Sturges,[38] and Peters told reporters that she had never played a character "with the emotional range that this character has. It was a real challenge for me."[37] The film's production was difficult, as Peters had to have either her mother or Quine on set to care for her son.[37] After production ended, Peters separated from Quine, claiming that he was cruel and would not speak to her for days at a time.[39] Their divorce was finalized on September 10, 1948.[40][41] The Sign of the Ram was released in March 1948, and critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the film an unfavorable review, writing: "The fortitude of Susan Peters in returning to the screen after a cruelly crippling accident, suffered three years ago, is worthy of a more substantial token of respect than it—and she—receives in The Sign of the Ram, a Columbia picture which came to Loew's State yesterday. And the talents of several other actors of competence who are with her in this film are deserving of fuller protection against embarrassment than any of them get."[42] In light of her divorce and facing a lack of opportunity as an actress, Peters began suffering from chronic depression at this time.[6]

In 1949, she was cast as Laura in a touring stage production of The Glass Menagerie (reportedly with blessings from Tennessee Williams) which had its debut June 27, 1949, in Norwich, Connecticut.[43] The play was slightly altered under Williams's supervision in order for Peters to be allowed to perform the part in a wheelchair.[44] She received a standing ovation during the play's opening night, and the production toured throughout the East Coast.[45] The following year, in 1950, she was cast in a stage production of Rudolph Besier's The Barretts of Wimpole Street,[46][47] playing the crippled poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which earned her positive critical reception among press.[48]

In March 1951, Peters signed onto the live NBC-TV television drama Miss Susan,[49] in which she played an attorney confined to her wheelchair.[50][51] Peters shot the series five days per week in Philadelphia from March 12 to December 28, 1951,[51] after which it was canceled when her health began to decline.[27][52]

1951–1952: Health problems and death

After the cancelation of Miss Susan, she began a relationship with Robert Clark, a U.S. Colonel, and the two announced their engagement to be married; however, Clark broke off the engagement, which sent Peters into a deeper depression.[53] She relocated to Lemon Grove, California, to live on her brother's cattle ranch, and her health began to steadily decline.[53] In mid-1952, she was admitted to a hospital in Exeter, California to undergo a skin graft procedure, after which she returned to her brother's home and lived in seclusion.[53] She had plans to resume another touring stage production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street the following year, but her strength had dwindled and she struggled to put on weight.[53]

In August 1952, Peters told her physician, Dr. Manchester: "I'm getting awfully tired. I think it possibly would be better if I did die."[54] Over the following two months, she began starving herself.[3][6] Peters died on October 23, 1952 at Memorial Hospital in Visalia, California at the age of 31. Her doctor attributed her death to a chronic kidney infection, a complication caused by her paralysis, and bronchial pneumonia.[55] He also noted that her death was hastened by self-induced dehydration and starvation because, in the last few weeks of her life, Peters had "lost interest" in eating and drinking and had lost the will to live.[1][2][56]

Her funeral was held on October 27 in Glendale, California, after which she was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park next to her mother.[57][58] At the time of her death Peters' son Timothy was living with her ex-husband. Her estate was worth $6,000 (equivalent to $56,609 in 2018).[59]


Much of the public assessment and discussion of Peters has hinged on her paralysis and its impact on her life and career: Media historian Hal Erickson considered Peters "one of Hollywood's most promising young actresses" of the 1940s, who "courageously attempted a comeback" despite her health problems.[51] Film scholar Gene Blottner similarly praised Peters as a "brilliant actress,"[32] as did John Charles of Turner Classic Movies, who deemed her paralysis "one of the worst tragedies to affect the Hollywood acting community during the 1940s."[6] For her contribution to motion pictures, Peters was posthumously[6] awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1601 Vine Street.[60]


Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1940 Susan and God Party Guest Uncredited [61]
1940 River's End Uncredited walk-on role [16]
1940 Sockaroo College Coed As Suzanne Carnahan [16]
1940 The Man Who Talked Too Much Bit role Uncredited [62]
1940 Young America Flies One of Jack's girlfriends Uncredited [18]
1940 Money and the Woman Depositor Uncredited [16]
1940 Santa Fe Trail Charlotte Davis As Suzanne Carnahan [62]
1941 The Strawberry Blonde Girl Uncredited [62]
1941 Here Comes Happiness Miss Brown Uncredited [62]
1941 Meet John Doe Autograph Hound Uncredited [62]
1941 Scattergood Pulls the Strings Ruth Savage [62]
1941 Three Sons o' Guns Mary Tyler [62]
1942 A New Romance of Celluloid: Personalities Herself MGM promotional short film [63]
1942 The Big Shot Ruth Carter [62]
1942 Tish Cora Edwards Bowzer [62]
1942 Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant Mrs. Howard Allwinn Young [62]
1942 Random Harvest Kitty [62]
1942 Andy Hardy's Double Life Sue, Wainwright Coed on Train [62]
1943 Assignment in Brittany Anne Pinot [62]
1943 Young Ideas Susan Evans [62]
1944 Song of Russia Nadya Stepanova [62]
1945 Keep Your Powder Dry Ann "Annie" Darrison [62]
1945 The Outward Room Unfinished project [36]
1948 The Sign of the Ram Leah St. Aubyn [62]
1951 Miss Susan Susan Martin Television series; re-titled Martinsville, U.S.A. [47]

Stage credits

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1949 The Glass Menagerie Laura Wingfield Regional touring production; debut in Norwich, Connecticut [43]
1950 The Barretts of Wimpole Street Elizabeth Barrett Browning Regional touring production [46]


Year Institution Nominated work Category Result Ref.
1942 Academy Awards Random Harvest Best Supporting Actress Nominated [64]
National Board of Review Best Actress Won [65]
1960 Hollywood Walk of Fame N/A Star – Motion Pictures Honored [60]

See also


  1. ^ A 1952 article on Peters's death notes that her chronic kidney infection and pneumonia was complicated by dehydration and starvation, as she had "lost the will to live" in the final weeks of her life, and thus refused to eat.[1] Articles published in 2008 and 2014 by LA Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively, both class her death as a suicide induced by her self-starvation.[2][3]
  2. ^ U.S. Census data from 1930 lists Abby Carnahan a widow residing in Seattle, King County, Washington, with her daughter, Suzanne, and son, Robert.[7]
  3. ^ An article published in The San Bernardino County Sun in January 1943 notes that Peters and her mother "came to Hollywood when Suzanne was still an infant."[8]


  1. ^ a b c Ferrero, Lee (October 25, 1952). "Actress Susan Peters, Paralyzed 7 Years, Dies". The Milwaukee Sentinel. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. p. 3 – via Google News.
  2. ^ a b Feinberg, Scott (February 26, 2014). "Oscars: The Sad Stories of 9 Acting Nominees Who Committed Suicide". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Garnier, Philippe (August 6, 2008). "Richard Quine: Dying Is Easy". LA Weekly. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Parish 2001, p. 225.
  5. ^ a b c d Crivello 1988, p. 176.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Charles, John. "Susan Peters Biography". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  7. ^ "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (accessed August 5, 2017), Abby Carnahan, Seattle, King, Washington, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 108, sheet 23A, line 14, family 596, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 2498; FHL microfilm 2,342,232.
  8. ^ Lowrance, Dee (January 31, 1943). "No Cinderella Girl -- Susan's Here to Stay". The San Bernardino County Sun. San Bernardino, California. p. 24. Retrieved September 11, 2015 – via
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Crivello 1988, p. 177.
  10. ^ Walker, Paul (February 17, 1943). "Reviews and Previews". Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. p. 5. Retrieved September 11, 2015 – via
  11. ^ a b c d e Crivello 1988, p. 178.
  12. ^ Schallert, Edwin (May 20, 1940). "Dean Jagger Dominant in Religious Feature". Los Angeles Times. p. A14.
  13. ^ "Starlet Has 'Jitters'". Los Angeles Times. September 29, 1940. p. C2.
  14. ^ Crivello 1988, pp. 177–178.
  15. ^ Parish & Bowers 1973, p. 556.
  16. ^ a b c d Crivello 1988, pp. 176–179.
  17. ^ a b Crivello 1988, pp. 179–180.
  18. ^ a b Schallert, Edwin (September 14, 1940). "Academy Starts Drive for Museum Collection". Los Angeles Times. p. 7.
  19. ^ Parish & Bowers 1973, p. 557.
  20. ^ a b MacPherson, Virginia (December 6, 1944). "Susan Peters Gave Herself 3 Years To Make Good--Did". St. Petersburg Times. Hollywood Roundup. St. Petersburg, Florida. p. 11 – via Google News.
  21. ^ a b Crivello 1988, p. 180.
  22. ^ Who's Who at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 1944. p. 84.
  23. ^ Crivello 1988, pp. 180–181.
  24. ^ a b c d Crivello 1988, p. 182.
  25. ^ a b c d e Crivello 1988, p. 181.
  26. ^ Troyan 2010, p. 139.
  27. ^ a b "Susan Peters: A Look Back". Toledo Blade. Toledo, Ohio. March 1, 1989. pp. P–3. Retrieved May 23, 2014 – via Google News.
  28. ^ Ostrow, Joanne (March 3, 2014). "Hollywood star-filled photos, then and now". Denver Post. Ostrow Off the Record. Retrieved August 4, 2017.
  29. ^ Basinger 1976, p. 63.
  30. ^ a b Crivello 1988, p. 183.
  31. ^ "Susan Peters Is Accidentally Shot". The Evening Independent. Massillon, Ohio. January 2, 1945. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2014 – via Google News.
  32. ^ a b Blottner 2015, p. 202.
  33. ^ Nissen 2013, p. 80.
  34. ^ Parish 2001, p. 226.
  35. ^ Crivello 1988, pp. 183–184.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Crivello 1988, p. 184.
  37. ^ a b c Crivello 1988, p. 185.
  38. ^ "Susan Peters to return in new screen career". The Australian Women's Weekly. 15 (8). Sydney, New South Wales. August 2, 1947. p. 36. Retrieved April 21, 2017 – via Trove.
  39. ^ Crivello 1988, pp. 185–186.
  40. ^ "Ex-Spokane Actress Susan Peters Cries As Divorce Granted". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Spokane, Washington. September 10, 1948. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2014 – via Google News.
  41. ^ "Cripple actress Susan Peters dead". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. October 25, 1952. p. 1 – via Trove.
  42. ^ Crowther, Bosley (March 4, 1948). "'The Sign of the Ram,' Marking Return of Susan Peters to Films, at Loew's State". The New York Times. Retrieved August 5, 2017.
  43. ^ a b "Susan Peters Takes Stage In Wheelchair". Toledo Blade. Toledo, Ohio. June 27, 1949. p. 8. Retrieved December 28, 2016 – via Google News.
  44. ^ "Susan Peters in Play". The New York Times. United Press. June 27, 1949. p. 18.
  45. ^ Crivello 1988, p. 186.
  46. ^ a b Crespy 2013, p. 63.
  47. ^ a b Blottner 2015, p. 203.
  48. ^ Monahan, Kaspar (January 24, 1950). "Susan Peters Impressive in "Barretts" Revival". The Pittsburgh Press. Show Shop. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. p. 8. Retrieved July 30, 2017 – via Google News.
  49. ^ Parish & Bowers 1973, p. 558.
  50. ^ McNeil 1991, p. 506.
  51. ^ a b c Erickson 2009, p. 189.
  52. ^ "Susan Peters Dies". The New York Times. October 25, 1952. p. 17.
  53. ^ a b c d Crivello 1988, p. 187.
  54. ^ "Susan Peters". Films In Review. National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 27: 214. 1976. ISSN 0015-1688.
  55. ^ Crivello 1988, p. 188.
  56. ^ "Susan Peters Dies; 'Lost Will' to Live". The Washington Post. October 25, 1952. p. 12.
  57. ^ "Actress' Rites Held Privately". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. October 28, 1952. p. 5. Retrieved May 28, 2014 – via Google News.
  58. ^ "Susan Peters Buried". Beaver Valley Times. Beaver, Pennsylvania. October 28, 1952. p. 1. Retrieved May 28, 2014 – via Google News.
  59. ^ "Susan Peters' Estate Left to Former Husband". Los Angeles Times. December 9, 1952. p. 16.
  60. ^ a b "Hollywood Star Walk: Susan Peters". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  61. ^ "Susan and God". TV Guide. NTVB Media. Archived from the original on October 23, 2018. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  62. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Susan Peters Filmography". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on October 23, 2018. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  63. ^ Shearer 2010, p. 367.
  64. ^ Troyan 2010, p. 164.
  65. ^ Gottesman & Geduld 1972, p. 197.


External links

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