Susan Harrison, the actress behind several memorable TV and film roles in the 1960s, has died. Harrison passed away early last month at a nursing facility in North Hills, California, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Susan Harrison was 80-years-old.
According to IMDb, Susan Harrison logged just 11 acting credits in her short career, but they were unforgettable roles.
Harrison’s most famous role came in 1957 when she played Susan Hunsecker, the sister of Burt Lancaster’s unscrupulous tabloid columnist J.J. Hunsecker, in the film The Sweet Smell of Success. According to Vanity Fair, Susan had been a waitress at a Greenwich Village coffeehouse and a model in the Garment District when she was plucked out of obscurity to star opposite Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success at age 18.
“I heard the whispers that I was neurotic, difficult—an oddball,” Harrison reportedly said later. “I wore long hair, black stockings, and oversized sweaters. I didn’t know what I was doing when I was in front of the camera but it looked good.”
Indeed, glamour photographer Pete Basch was fascinated by Harrison’s anti-girl next door beauty.
“She was a young woman with a strong erotic component; she could have worked all over Europe. The Italians would have loved her.” Basch said, per Vanity Fair.
In 1960, Harrison portrayed the gypsy Tirza in the Season 1 Bonanza episode “Dark Star,” where Michael Landon’s Little Joe Cartwright was smitten for her mysterious character. The following year, Susan Harrison played the ballet dancer trapped in a cylinder with a clown (Murray Matheson), hobo (Kelton Garwood), army major (William Windom), and bagpiper (Clark Allen) in the iconic Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.”
Harrison also appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and the ABC medical drama Breaking Point before leaving her acting career behind in 1963 to focus on raising her family. In recent years, Susan Harrison returned to acting at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles.
Susan Harrison may have stepped out of the spotlight in the early 1960s, but 40 years later her daughter became a reality TV superstar when she competed on and won the bizarre Fox reality show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? Harrison’s daughter, Darva Conger, married millionaire Rick Rockwell in a speed-wedding format that resulted in a fast annulment. At the time the show aired, co-producer Mike Fleiss (of The Bachelor fame) called it “a landmark event in TV history,” according to People.
Conger shot to fame and became a media darling after winning the Fox competition, but later admitted to People that it was “a dumb show.” After her annulment from Rockwell, Conger was living with her mom Susan Harrison in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
While the news of Susan Harrison’s death is just now being announced publicly, her daughter Darva Conger Arellano posted to Instagram to tell her followers that her mother passed away peacefully.
“I am heartbroken…she was my heart, my anchor, my unfailing supporter,” Darva wrote, adding that her mother lived “an amazing life.”
“She was the most beautiful and elegant woman I have ever seen, and remained beautiful to the day she died. Last but not least she was an amazingly talented and highly trained actress who started acting on Broadway and became a bona fide movie star. She had many titles, but to me, she was my sweet Mom and there will never be another like her. “
In addition to her daughter Darva, Susan Harrison is survived by her son D.H. and three grandchildren.
You can see Susan Harrison as a gypsy in Bonanza and in her memorable Twilight Zone role as The Ballerina in the videos below.