Susan Oliver

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Susan Oliver
Susan Oliver (1971).jpg
BornCharlotte Gercke
(1932-02-13)February 13, 1932
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 10, 1990(1990-05-10) (aged 58)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Years active1955–88
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Susan Oliver
Susan Oliver (1971).jpg
BornCharlotte Gercke
(1932-02-13)February 13, 1932
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 10, 1990(1990-05-10) (aged 58)
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Years active1955–88

Susan Oliver (February 13, 1932 – May 10, 1990) was an American actress, television director and aviator.

Early life and family[edit]

Susan Oliver was born Charlotte Gercke, the daughter of journalist George Gercke and astrology practitioner Ruth Hale Oliver, in New York City in 1932. Her parents divorced when she was still a child. In June 1949, Oliver joined her mother in Southern California, where Ruth Hale Oliver was in the process of becoming a well-known Hollywood astrologer. Oliver made a decision to embark upon a career as an actress and chose the stage name Susan Oliver.


Early years[edit]

By September 1949 and using her new name, Oliver returned to the East Coast to begin drama studies at Swarthmore College, followed by professional training at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. After working in summer stock, regional theater and in unbilled bits in daytime and primetime TV shows and commercials, she made her first major television appearance playing a supporting role in the July 31, 1955 episode of the live drama series Goodyear TV Playhouse, and quickly progressed to leading parts in other shows.

Oliver did numerous TV shows in 1957 and had a starring role in a movie. She began the year with an ingenue part, as the daughter of an 18th-century Manhattan family, in her first Broadway play, Small War on Murray Hill, a Robert E. Sherwood comedy.[1] That same year, Oliver replaced Mary Ure as the female lead in the Broadway production of John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger.

The play's short run was immediately followed by larger roles in live TV plays on Kaiser Aluminum Hour, The United States Steel Hour and Matinee Theater. Oliver then went to Hollywood, where she appeared in the November 14, 1957 episode of Climax!, one of the few live drama series based on the West Coast, as well as in a number of filmed shows, including one of the first episodes of NBC's Wagon Train, Father Knows Best, The Americans, and Johnny Staccato.

In July 1957 Oliver was chosen for the title role in her first motion picture, The Green-Eyed Blonde, a low-budget independent melodrama released by Warner Bros. in December on the bottom half of a double bill.[2] It is the only motion picture on which Oliver received top billing.

In mid-1958 Oliver began rehearsals for a co-starring role in Patate, her second Broadway play.[3] Its seven-performance run was even shorter than that of Small War on Murray Hill, but won Oliver a Theatre World Award for "Outstanding Breakout Performance."; it was her last Broadway appearance.

Television and films[edit]

On April 6, 1960, the 28-year-old Oliver played a spoiled young runaway, Maggie Hamilton, in "The Maggie Hamilton Story", on NBC's Wagon Train. Flint McCullough, played by Robert Horton, searches for her so the wagon train can proceed on schedule.[4] Also in 1960, in an episode of The Deputy she played the long-lost daughter of star Henry Fonda's late girl friend. In 1961, Oliver played the part of Laurie Evans in the episode "Incident of His Brother's Keeper" on CBS's Rawhide and in 1963, she played Judy Hall in the episode "Incident at Spider Rock".

Oliver also appeared in three episodes each of Adventures in Paradise, Twilight Zone, Route 66, Dr. Kildare, The Naked City, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Burke's Law, The Fugitive, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., I Spy, The Virginian, and The Name of the Game. She made one appearance on ABC's family western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters.

Her most challenging role during this time was as the ambitious wife of doomed country music legend Hank Williams (George Hamilton, in offbeat casting) in Your Cheatin' Heart (1964). The same year she also starred opposite Jerry Lewis in The Disorderly Orderly, and also appeared in The Love-Ins (1967) with Richard Todd.

Oliver appeared in television films including Carter's Army. Oliver had a continuing role as Ann Howard on ABC's prime-time serial Peyton Place in 1966.

In the original Star Trek TV series Oliver played female lead character Vina in in first season two-part episode "The Menagerie" (1966). The footage featuring Oliver originated from the earlier of two pilot episodes, "The Cage" (1964). The framing device was needed because of significant format and cast changes, in particular William Shatner replacing Jeffrey Hunter as the Captain. Eventually, "The Cage" was broadcast as a Star Trek episode

From 1975 to 1976 Oliver was a regular cast member of the soap opera Days of Our Lives and received her only Emmy nomination (for "Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress") in the three-hour, October 25, 1976, NBC made-for-TV movie, Amelia Earhart.

In addition to television roles Oliver also had roles in several theatrical features including The Gene Krupa Story (1959), BUtterfield 8 (1960), and The Caretakers (1963).

Directing and later years[edit]

By the late 1970s with acting assignments becoming scarcer, Oliver turned to directing. She was one of the original 19 women admitted to the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women (AFI DWW) "who, upon her untimely death, left a good chunk of funding for the DWW."[5] In 1977, she wrote and directed Cowboysan, her AFI DWW short film which presents the fantasy scenario of a Japanese actor and actress playing leads in an American western.

Oliver also directed two TV episodes, the October 25, 1982, installment of M*A*S*H and the December 4, 1983, entry of one of its sequel series, Trapper John, M.D..

In Oliver's last fully active year she also appeared in the February 21, 1985, episode of Magnum, P.I., two episodes of Murder, She Wrote (March 31 and December 1), the February 12, 1987, episode of Simon & Simon, the January 10, 1988, episode of the NBC domestic drama Our House. She made her last onscreen appearance in the November 6, 1988 episode of the syndicated horror anthology Freddy's Nightmares. Oliver spent the remainder of her career in Hollywood, having appeared in more than one hundred television programs.

Aviator and author[edit]

Oliver experienced an event in February 1959 that belied her later aviation accomplishments. She was a passenger aboard Pan Am Flight 115, a Boeing 707 on a transatlantic flight from Paris to New York City when it dropped from 35,000 feet to 6000 feet. It was February 3, 1959, the same day Buddy Holly died in an airplane crash. These events caused her to avoid flying for the next year, even turning down job offers (with the exception of auditioning for BUtterfield 8) if they were so short notice she could only travel by air. She eventually underwent hypnosis to overcome her fear of flying.[6]

In July 1964 Hal Fishman introduced her to personal flying when he took her on an evening flight over Los Angeles in a Cessna 172.[6] The experience motivated her to return the next day to the Santa Monica Airport to begin training for a Private Pilot certificate. In 1966, while preparing for her own transatlantic flight, she was a passenger in a Piper J-3 Cub when the pilot ran into wires while "show-boating";[6] the airplane flipped and crashed. She and the pilot escaped injury.[7]

In 1967, piloting her own Aero Commander 200, she became the fourth woman to fly a single-engine aircraft solo across the Atlantic Ocean and the second to do it from New York City. She was attempting to fly to Moscow, her odyssey ended in Denmark after the government of the Soviet Union denied her permission to enter its air space. Oliver wrote about her aviation exploits and philosophy of life in an autobiography published in 1983.[6]

In 1968 she was contacted by Learjet to see if she was interested in getting a type rating in one of their jets with the intent to set record flights for them. She earned the rating and even flew some charters (having by that time acquired a commercial pilot certificate in single and multiengine land airplanes), but did not fly any record flights in their jets.[6]

In 1970 Oliver co-piloted a Piper Comanche to victory in the 2760-mile transcontinental race known as the "Powder Puff Derby", which resulted in her being named Pilot of the Year. The pilot was Margaret Mead (not to be confused with the famous anthropologist), an experienced pilot who had flown in several derbies with different co-pilots.[8]

In 1972 her training for a glider rating was chronicled for an episode of the television series The American Sportsman and the segment aired in March 1973.[9]

According to the FAA Registry, the glider rating was issued to Oliver on July 21, 1972. It was her last rating. The Registry shows her to have earned commercial pilot ratings for airplane single engine land, airplane multiengine land, instrument airplane, and private privileges for glider. Her last aviation medical exam was in May 1976; therefore she could not legally pilot any aircraft except gliders after May 1978, marking the end of her piloting of powered aircraft.[10]


Oliver died from lung cancer on May 10, 1990, at the Motion Picture & Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California.[11]

Selected TV and Filmography[edit]

1957The Kaiser Aluminum HourKayEpisode: "So Short a Season"
1957CrossroadsConnie WillisEpisode: "9:30 Action"
1958Kraft Television TheatrePamelaEpisode: "The Woman at High Hollow"
1958SuspicionRosemary RussellEpisode: "The Woman Turned to Salt"
1959TrackdownRebecca FordEpisode: "Blind Alley"
1959Alcoa TheatreBernice DavisEpisode: "The Long House on Avenue A"
1959The Gene Krupa StoryDorissa Dinell
1960BUtterfield 8Norma
1960Wanted: Dead or aliveBessEpisode: "The Pariah"
1960The UntouchablesRoxie PlumberEpisode: "The Organization"
1960BonanzaLeta MalvetEpisode: "The Outcast"
1960Wagon TrainMaggie HamiltonEpisode: "The Maggie Hamilton Story"
1960The Twilight ZoneTeenyaEpisode: "People Are Alike All Over"
1961The AquanautsLaura WestEpisode: "Stormy Weather"
1961RawhideLaurie EvansEpisode: "Incident of His Brother's Keeper"
1961The Adventures of Ozzie and HarrietLoriEpisode: "Rick, the Milkman"
1961Route 66Joan MaslowEpisode: "Welcome to Amity"
1961Thriller (TV series)Edith LandersEpisode: "Choose a Victim"
1962Route 66Claire/ChrisEpisode: "Between Hello and Goodbye"
1962Cain's HundredKittyEpisode: "The Cost of Living"
1962The Alfred Hitchcock HourAnnabel DelaneyEpisode: "Annabel"
1963RawhideJudy HallEpisode: "Incident at Spider Rock"
196377 Sunset StripKristine SeaverEpisode: "Your Fortune for a Penny"
1963The CaretakersNurse Cathy Clark
1963The FugitiveKarenEpisode: "Never Wave Goodbye"
1963Route 66WillowEpisode: "Fifty Miles from Home"
1964Guns of DiabloMaria
1964Your Cheatin' HeartAudrey Williams
1964The Disorderly OrderlySusan Andrews
1964DestryRebecca FairhavenEpisode: "One Hundred Bibles"
1964The Andy Griffith ShowJan McNairEpisode: "Prisoner of Love" Season 4 Episode 18
1964Looking For LoveJan
1964Star TrekVinaEpisode: "The Cage"
1965SeawaySue MurrayEpisode: "The Sparrows"
1965The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Ursula Alice BaldwinEpisode: "The Bow-Wow Affair"
1966A Man Called ShenandoahVirginia HarveyEpisode: "Rope's End"
1966Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.Julie MyersEpisode: "A Date with Miss Camp Henderson"
1966My Three SonsJerry HarperEpisode: "The Awkward Age"
1966Peyton PlaceAnn Howard48 episodes
1967The Love-InsPatricia Cross
1967The Wild Wild WestTristeEpisode: "The Night Dr. Loveless Died"
1967The InvadersStacy CahillEpisode: "The Ivy Curtain"
1968A Man Called GannonMatty
1968The InvadersJoan SeeleyEpisode: "Inquisition"
1969MannixLinda JordanEpisode: "The Odds Against Donald Jordan"
1969The Big ValleyKate WilsonEpisode: "Alias Nellie Handley"
1969Change of MindMargaret Rowe
1969The MonitorsBarbara Cole
1970Carter's ArmyAnna Renvic
1971Company of KillersThelma Dwyer
1971Do You Take This Stranger?Mildred Crandall
1971Dan AugustLeona SerlingEpisode: "Prognosis: Homicide"
1971SargeFranEpisode: "An Accident Waiting to Happen"
1971Alias Smith and JonesMiss Blanche GrahamEpisode: "Journey from San Juan"
1972Medical CenterRuthEpisode: "Vision of Doom"
1972GunsmokeSarah ElkinsEpisode: "Eleven Dollars"
1973The American SportsmanHerselfSegment: "Soaring at El Mirage"
1973CannonJill ThorsonEpisode: "Moving Target"
1973Circle of FearEllen PritchardEpisode: "Spare Parts"
1973Love StoryVirginia MadisonEpisode: "The Youngest Lovers"
1974Ginger in the MorningSugar
1974Police StoryRina PrescottEpisode: "World Full of Hurt"
1974PetrocelliEleanor WarrenEpisode: "Edge of Evil"
1976Amelia EarhartNetta Snook "Snookie"
1977The Streets of San FranciscoGracie BoggsEpisode: "Hang Tough"
1977Nido de ViudasIsabelUS title: Widow's Nest
1980Hardly WorkingClaire Trent
1982Tomorrow's ChildMarilyn HurstTelevision movie
1982M*A*S*HDirector, 1 episode
1983Trapper John, M.D.Director, 1 episode
1982International AirportMary Van LeuvenTelevision movie
1985Magnum, P.I.Laurie CraneEpisode: "Let Me Hear the Music"
1988Our HouseOlga ZelnikovaEpisode: "Balance of Power"
1988Freddy's NightmaresThe MaidEpisode: "Judy Miller, Come on Down"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The play's opening night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre was on January 3, 1957, and, 12 performances later, closing night was January 12. Leo Genn as General Howe
  2. ^ The film was scripted by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and credited to "front" Sally Stubblefield.
  3. ^ The melancholy comedy, written by French playwright Marcel Achard, played to sold-out theaters in Paris upon its premiere in 1957. Adapted for American audiences by Irwin Shaw, Patate (which in French means "spud", but can also mean "chump") paired Oliver with veteran leading man Tom Ewell (in the title role) and Lee Bowman. The play opened at Henry Miller's Theatre on October 28, 1958, and closed on November 1.
  4. ^ "The Maggie Hamilton Story". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ WOMEN DIRECTORS IN HOLLYWOOD, The Founding of the Directing Workshop for Women of the American Film Institute, a History, THE DREAM OF THE MARBLE BRIDGE,
  6. ^ a b c d e Oliver, Susan (1983). Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey. Macmillan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-02-592920-8. 
  7. ^ NTSB No. LAX67D0086
  8. ^ Powder Puff Derby – The Record: 1947–1977
  9. ^ Robesonian newspaper archives, March 18, 1973
  10. ^ Airmen Inquiry; search for "Oliver, Susan"
  11. ^ "Susan Oliver Is Dead; Television Actress, 61". New York Times. 1990-05-15. Retrieved January 27, 2012. 

External links[edit]