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Saturday, September 08, 2012


Part Two of Keep Your Powder Dry and Susan Peters

Trades kept vigil as Susan Peters sought recovery. Two days after the accident, Variety reported that she'd passed critical stage, but remained in serious condition for the bullet having passed through her right lung and being lodged now in her spine. By the end of January, she was recuperating --- Physicians declare she should recover completely within a year, said columns. Keep Your Powder Dry was meanwhile prepped for March openings, one of which saw Lana Turner and the WAC's national director feted at a Washington reception with 250 top military officials in attendance. It was not uncommon for Hollywood personalities to find themselves sharing social strata with government elite, as their interests were never so allied as in the shared struggle for Allied victory.


Keep Your Powder Dry shipped early, and ahead of domestic playdates, to army camps and combat arenas where servicemen rocked the tents over Lana and company. From one soldier's letter home: We are beginning to see more current movies nowadays. The last one was Keep Your Powder Dry with Lana Turner and Laraine Day. What a riot! I thought the theatre would come tumbling down when Lana Turner was flashed on the screen. For career momentum this war interrupted among male players who enlisted, there were spikes, huge ones, that would benefit a Lana Turner and glamour sorts who'd represent fruits of winning the peace. Keep Your Powder Dry was a very definition of ephemeral, but for those months of 1945 leading to surrenders, it was both tonic and affirmation of a war effort now proved successful.


One remarkable aspect of Powder's salesmanship was almost obsessive emphasis on catfight potential among its femme characters. Metro merchandisers obviously sensed patron appetite for women in combat ... with each other. It wasn't unusual to push movies based on promise of set-to's between female participants, but this one fairly reveled in it. The meow stuff was front-and-centered in most every newspaper ad I came across. Showmen at least knew what juice to squeeze from this fruit. Maybe distaff rough play was MGM's substitute for sex they couldn't depict thanks to Code fears. The Women from 1939 was evoked for its donnybrook, and Keep Your Powder Dry promised to go it one better. Laraine Day does get a slap from Lana, or was it the other way around? Heck, maybe they both got slapped.


Those months of Powder play-off saw less news of Susan Peters. Variety ran an ad in July '45 marked Urgent! --- its purpose to locate a house that would accommodate special needs of the wheelchair-bound actress. MGM had kept her on salary, and, said insiders, was covering her hospital expenses. There was also radio work once she was able. A dramatization of Seventh Heaven teamed Peters with Van Johnson, followed by a playlet with Ken Murray as part of his on-stage Blackouts series. Broadcast work continued with Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone, Robert Mitchum, others. Close friend Lucille Ball reported that the most frequent inquiry she got during a Loew's Theatres tour was, How is Susan Peters doing?

With Van Johnson and Husband Richard Quine Doing a Radio Broadcast

The answer was "not well," despite optimism in trades that she would walk again. Variety said Susan Peters "took her first steps without aid" in June 1946, nearly a year and a half after the accident, but those closer knew better (veteran scribe Bob Thomas also said he observed her taking "three steps" in leg braces). MGM listed Peters among their press-touted Star Roster as late as 10-46, but finally, "with one eye on its stockholders," had to take her off payroll. What further help they could give was extended. Peters' husband Richard Quine got a Metro contract that was part compensation for his wife's lost income, and Susan had access to Metro stars when she briefly took up profiling same for Hollywood press.

Working with Chalrs Bickford on Sign Of The Ram's Script





Larry Parks, Evelyn Keyes, and Glenn Ford Welcome Susan
 to the Columbia Lot for Sign Of The Ram
Further acting opportunities came along. Charles Bickford brought Peters a story he liked, Sign Of The Ram, and helped develop it as a comeback vehicle. Columbia backed the independent venture (Susan had a %) and stars on that lot greeted her on a first shooting day. Sign Of The Ram was grim going, her part largely unsympathetic, and enacted from the wheelchair. Reviews were laudatory, more for Peters than the film, but it didn't perform well (under a million in domestic rentals). There'd be no more features, but Susan Peters soldiered on in stage enactments of The Barretts Of Wimpole Street and The Glass Menagerie.



She now faced reality of a permanent disability. Said Peters to Bob Thomas when the subject of walking came up: How can I? --- I have no spinal cord. It will take longer than I live for the doctors to discover how to fix that. There was divorce from Quine (her idea). They had adopted a child in 1946. She and the latter were alone now, but Hollywood friends kept tabs, Lucille Ball in closest ongoing contact. NBC wanted Peters for a daily fifteen-minute TV drama, Miss Susan, where she'd play a wheelchair-bound attorney solving other folk's problems while dealing with her own. Done in 1951, it was said to be the first televised drama centered around a disabled person. Miss Susan was short-lived, partly because of a relapse Peters had as result of rehearsals and shooting in wintry Philadelphia. From there came decline and just giving up. She'd tell her doctor, I'm getting awfully tired. Maybe it would be better if I did die. That would come in October 1952, official causes a kidney ailment and pneumonia.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Dan in Missouri said...

I have to admit the Susan Peters story is all new to me. Thanks again for your devotion to great stories about the movie theatre industry.
Dan

11:49 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Very good, in depth stuff. Reminds us not all short circuited trips to stardom were the result of personal failings. Love that double bill with Laurel and Hardy!

9:37 AM  
Anonymous roger said...

Television Obscurities has a good in-depth piece on MISS SUSAN:

http://www.tvobscurities.com/articles/miss-susan/

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

A sad story, Susan Peters -- a future bright with promise at 21, then despair and an almost welcome death ten years later. I suspect the reason she's not better remembered now is her story doesn't fit neatly into some prefab too-young-to-die, broken-heart-for-every-shining-light, lonely-at-the-top template, like Jimmy Dean or Marilyn or that girl who jumped to her death off the HOLLYWOODLAND sign. Just one of those bad things that happen to nice people every now and then for absolutely no good reason.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

Thank you, John, for the most depressing story I will read today! Still, it was worth hearing about. What a tragedy!

2:14 PM  
Blogger Neve Rendell said...

As someone else said, this is all new to me. Harrowing. Poor Susan. It sounds like such a bizarre accident too. You tell a great story though.

12:19 PM  

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