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February 13, 1932
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 10, 1990
Woodland Hills, California, U.S.
Early life and family
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.
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. 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. 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. 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
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. Also in 1960, in an episode of The Deputy she played the long-lost daughter of star Henry Fonda's late girl friend.
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 on-going popularity of the original Star Trek TV series has made Oliver widely-known for playing female lead character "Vina" in the first (of two) pilot episode, "The Cage". It was not broadcast, but most of Oliver's scenes were used in first season two-part episode "The Menagerie". (The Cage was not used as an episode because of subsequent cast changes, notably William Shatner replacing Jeffrey Hunter as the Captain. Eventually The Cage was shown in Star Trek retrospectives.)
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.
Directing and later years
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." In 1977, twenty-eight years after her early experiences in Japan, 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.
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.
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.
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. 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"; the airplane flipped and crashed. She and the pilot escaped injury.
In 1967, piloting her own Aero Commander 200, she became the fourth woman to fly a single-engined 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.
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.
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.
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.
|1957||The Kaiser Aluminum Hour||Kay||Episode: "So Short a Season"|
|1957||Crossroads||Connie Willis||Episode: "9:30 Action"|
|1958||Kraft Television Theatre||Pamela||Episode: "The Woman at High Hollow"|
|1958||Suspicion||Rosemary Russell||Episode: "The Woman Turned to Salt"|
|1959||Trackdown||Rebecca Ford||Episode: "Blind Alley"|
|1959||Alcoa Theatre||Bernice Davis||Episode: "The Long House on Avenue A"|
|1960||The Untouchables||Roxie Plumber||Episode: "The Organization"|
|1960||Bonanza||Leta Malvet||Episode: "The Outcast"|
|1960||Wagon Train||Maggie Hamilton||Episode: "The Maggie Hamilton Story"|
|1960||The Twilight Zone||Teenya||Episode: "People Are Alike All Over"|
|1961||The Aquanauts||Laura West||Episode: "Stormy Weather"|
|1961||Rawhide||Laurie Evans||Episode: "Incident of His Brother's Keeper"|
|1961||The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet||Lori||Episode: "Rick, the Milkman"|
|1961||Route 66||Joan Maslow||Episode: "Welcome to Amity"|
|1961||Thriller (TV series)||Edith Landers||Episode: "Choose a Victim"|
|1962||Route 66||Claire/Chris||Episode: "Between Hello and Goodbye"|
|1962||Cain's Hundred||Kitty||Episode: "The Cost of Living"|
|1962||The Alfred Hitchcock Hour||Annabel Delaney||Episode: "Annabel"|
|1963||77 Sunset Strip||Kristine Seaver||Episode: "Your Fortune for a Penny"|
|1963||The Caretakers||Nurse Cathy Clark|
|1963||The Fugitive||Karen||Episode: "Never Wave Goodbye"|
|1963||Route 66||Willow||Episode: "Fifty Miles from Home"|
|1964||Guns of Diablo||Maria|
|1964||Your Cheatin' Heart||Audrey Williams|
|1964||The Disorderly Orderly||Susan Andrews|
|1964||Destry||Rebecca Fairhaven||Episode: "One Hundred Bibles"|
|1964||The Andy Griffith Show||Jan McNair||Episode: "Prisoner of Love" Season 4 Episode 18|
|1965||Star Trek||Vina||Episode: "The Cage"|
|1965||Seaway||Sue Murray||Episode: The Sparrows"|
|1965||The Man from U.N.C.L.E.||Ursula Alice Baldwin||Episode: "The Bow-Wow Affair"|
|1966||A Man Called Shenandoah||Virginia Harvey||Episode: "Rope's End"|
|1966||Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.||Julie Myers||Episode: "A Date with Miss Camp Henderson"|
|1966||My Three Sons||Jerry Harper||Episode: "The Awkward Age"|
|1966||Peyton Place||Ann Howard||48 episodes|
|1967||The Love-Ins||Patricia Cross|
|1967||The Wild Wild West||Triste||Episode: "The Night Dr. Loveless Died"|
|1967||The Invaders||Stacy Cahill||Episode: "The Ivy Curtain"|
|1968||A Man Called Gannon||Matty|
|1968||The Invaders||Joan Seeley||Episode: "Inquisition"|
|1969||The Big Valley||Kate Wilson||Episode: "Alias Nellie Handley"|
|1969||Change of Mind||Margaret Rowe|
|1971||Dan August||Leona Serling||Episode: "Prognosis: Homicide"|
|1971||Sarge||Fran||Episode: "An Accident Waiting to Happen"|
|1972||Medical Center||Ruth||Episode: "Vision of Doom"|
|1972||Gunsmoke||Sarah Elkins||Episode: "Eleven Dollars"|
|1973||The American Sportsman||Herself||Segment: "Soaring at El Mirage"|
|1973||Cannon||Jill Thorson||Episode: "Moving Target"|
|1973||Circle of Fear||Ellen Pritchard||Episode: "Spare Parts"|
|1974||Ginger in the Morning||Sugar|
|1974||Police Story||Rina Prescott||Episode: "World Full of Hurt"|
|1977||The Streets of San Francisco||Gracie Boggs||Episode: "Hang Tough"|
|1980||Hardly Working||Claire Trent|
|1982||Tomorrow's Child||Marilyn Hurst||Television movie|
|1982||M*A*S*H||Director, 1 episode|
|1983||Trapper John, M.D.||Director, 1 episode|
|1982||International Airport||Mary Van Leuven||Television movie|
|1988||Our House||Olga Zelnikova||Episode: "Balance of Power"|
|1988||Freddy's Nightmares||The Maid||Episode: "Judy Miller, Come on Down"|
- 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
- The film was scripted by blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and credited to "front" Sally Stubblefield.
- 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.
- "The Maggie Hamilton Story". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 20, 2012.
- 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, http://janhaag.com/ESessays.html
- Oliver, Susan (1983). Odyssey: A Daring Transatlantic Journey. Macmillan Publishing Co. ISBN 0-02-592920-8.
- NTSB No. LAX67D0086
- Powder Puff Derby - The Record: 1947-1977
- Robesonian newspaper archives, March 18, 1973
- Airmen Inquiry; search for "Oliver, Susan"
- "Susan Oliver Is Dead; Television Actress, 61". 1990-05-15. nytimes.com. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
- Susan Oliver at the Internet Movie Database
- Susan Oliver at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- susanoliver.info Oliver biography and pictoral site
- Susan Oliver Grave
- Listen to Susan Oliver on ZERO HOUR hosted by Rod Serling Zero Hour Podcast 1973-12-24 (ep51) John Dehner and Susan Oliver - Fourth Of Forever - Part 1, with a new introduction.