Susan Strasberg

Susan Elizabeth Strasberg (May 22, 1938 – January 21, 1999) was an American stage, film, and television actress, the daughter of the drama coach Lee Strasberg. She was nominated for a Tony Award when she was 18 years old.

Susan Strasberg
Strasberg's 1973 promotional image for Mannix
Susan Elizabeth Strasberg

(1938-05-22)May 22, 1938
DiedJanuary 21, 1999(1999-01-21) (aged 60)
New York City, U.S.
Years active1953–1992
Christopher Jones
(m. 1965; div. 1968)
Parent(s)Lee Strasberg
Paula Strasberg
RelativesJohn Strasberg (brother)


Early life

Strasberg was born in New York City to theatre director and drama coach Lee Strasberg of the Actors Studio and former actress Paula Strasberg. Her brother, John, is an acting coach. Her father was born in what is now Ukraine, and her mother in New York City. They were both from Jewish families who emigrated from Europe.

Strasberg attended the Professional Children's School, and then spent time at both The High School of Music & Art and the High School of Performing Arts. She also did some modelling.[1]

Early roles

At age 14, Strasberg appeared off-Broadway in Maya in 1953, which ran seven performances. Her TV debut was in "Catch a Falling Star," an episode of Goodyear Playhouse directed by Delbert Mann the same year.[1]

She was in Romeo and Juliet for Kraft Theatre (1954), playing Juliet, and episodes of General Electric Theater and Omnibus.[2]

She had a regular role in a short lived sitcom, The Marriage, playing the daughter of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. It was the first network show broadcast in color.

Strasberg made her film debut in The Cobweb (1955). She followed it with a widely praised performance as a teenager in Picnic (1955), playing the younger sister of Kim Novak.[3]

The Diary of Anne Frank

Strasberg originated the title role in the Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Garson Kanin, which ran for 717 performances from 1955 to 1957. Brooks Atkinson wrote that she was "a slender, enchanting young lady with a heart-shaped face, a pair of burning eyes, and the soul of an actress."

Strasberg was nominated for a Tony Award at the age of 18 and became the youngest actress to star on Broadway with her name above the marquee title. In 1955 she appeared twice on the cover of Life (July 11, 1955 issue; November 11, 1955 issue) and soon after on the cover of Newsweek (December 19, 1955 issue).

During her run on the show she did The Cradle Song with Helen Hayes on TV.[4]

The success of the play led to numerous film offers.[5] She decided on the lead in Stage Struck (1958), directed by Sidney Lumet. It was a remake of Morning Glory (1933) with Katharine Hepburn. According to one obituary, "It had seemed as if the beautiful, dark-haired actress might have an impact equal to that made by Jean Simmons and Audrey Hepburn as ingenues."[1]

Strasberg was not cast in the George Stevens film version of Anne Frank. Several reasons have been suggested for this: that Stevens did not want to deal with the influence of Strasberg's mother, Paula, and that Stevens saw Strasberg at the end of the play's run when her performance had become tired. Strasberg did not test for the role.[1]

Strasberg's next appearance on Broadway was in Time Remembered (1957–58) by Jean Anouilh with Richard Burton and Helen Hayes. It was another success and ran for 248 performances.[6]

Strasberg continued to guest star on TV shows like Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Play of the Week (a production of The Cherry Orchard with Hayes), and Our American Heritage.

She was in the cast of the New York City Centre production of William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life that played at the Brussels World Fair in 1958. It was filmed for Armchair Theatre.

Strasberg appeared in Sean O'Casey's The Shadow of a Gunman (1958–59) for Jack Garfein alongside members of the Actors Studio; it ran for 52 performances. Brooks Atkinson said she had "willowy freshness".[7]

In 1959 she toured with Franchot Tone in Caesar and Cleopatra.


She went to Europe to star in the Italian–Yugoslav Holocaust film Kapò (1960), which was nominated for an Academy Award as its year's Best Foreign Language Film.[8]

Strasberg based herself in Italy for the next few years. "I wanted to see what it was like when I was alone," she said.[9]

She traveled to England to make Scream of Fear (1961) for Hammer Films, and in Italy did Disorder (1962) with Louis Jourdan and the Hollywood film Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man (1962).

Return to US

Strasberg returned to the US to appear on Broadway in The Lady of the Camellias (1963) directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The director said Strasberg had the qualities of being "romantic, cynical, classical, contemporary."[10] The show only ran 13 performances.

Strasberg began to concentrate on television, guest-starring on Dr Kildare, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, Breaking Point, Burke's Law, and The Rogues.

She made The High Bright Sun (1965) in England then went back to TV: Run for Your Life, The Legend of Jesse James (starring Christopher Jones, who became her husband), The Big Valley and The Invaders.[11]

She made Chubasco (1967) with Jones, and did some counterculture movies: The Trip (1967) for Roger Corman, as the wife of Peter Fonda, and Psych-Out (1968) with Jack Nicholson. She also did The Name of the Game Is Kill! (1968), The Brotherhood (1968) and The Sisters (1969).

Late 1960s & 1970s

In the late 1960's & 1970s Strasberg did mostly TV: The Big Valley, The Virginian, Bonanza, Lancer, The Name of the Game, Premiere, The F.B.I., CBS Playhouse, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Streets of San Francisco, Night Gallery, McCloud, Alias Smith & Jones, The Sixth Sense, Assignment Vienna, The Wide World of Mystery, The Evil Touch, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, The Rockford Files, and Mannix. "I did mediocre things because that way I didn't have to test myself," she said later. "I had a tremendous need not to shame my father."[12]

She did occasional TV movies like Hauser's Memory (1970), Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones (1971) and ...And Millions Die! (1973) and the occasional feature like Ternos Caçadores (1970), The Legend of Hillbilly John (1972), and Orson Welles' The Other Side of the Wind (ultimately released in 2018).

Strasberg had a regular role on the series Toma (1974).[13] She guested on Police Surgeon, McMillan & Wife, Petrocelli, Ellery Queen,Kate McShane, Medical Story, Bronk, and Harry O.[14]

Strasberg had the lead in So Evil, My Sister (1974) and was in Mystery at Malibu (1976), Sammy Somebody (1976), SST: Death Flight (1977), Rollercoaster (1977), The Manitou (1977),Tre soldi e la donna di classe (1977), In Praise of Older Women (1978), The Immigrants (1978), and Beggarman, Thief (1979).[15]

In 1976 she appeared in a short film directed by Lee Grant called The Stronger, based on a play by August Strindberg, which she said reignited her passion for acting.[12]

In 1980 she published a memoir, Bittersweet, because she said her career was "stalled. . . . It seemed totally untenable to me, acting for 25 years—I had played Juliet, Cleopatra, and Anne Frank—and there I was, sitting in Hollywood just waiting for somebody to want me."[1]


In the 1980s Strasberg's credits included Bloody Birthday (1981), The Love Boat, Mazes and Monsters (1982), Sweet Sixteen (1983), The Returning (1983), The New Mike Hammer, Tales of the Unexpected, Tales from the Darkside, The Delta Force (1986), Remington Steele, Hot Shots, Murder, She Wrote, Cagney & Lacey, and The Runnin' Kind (1989).

"I love acting," she said in 1983. "I mean, I can't quite conceive of not doing it. But it's less important to me since I started writing, because I really like writing. And I really enjoy, I love lecturing and speaking and having that kind of contact with people too."[16]

Her last performances included the biopic Schweitzer (1990), the action movie Prime Suspect (1990) with Frank Stallone and Il giardino dei ciliegi (1992).

In 1993 she was a jury member for the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.[17]


Strasberg wrote two best-selling books. Bittersweet was an autobiography in which she wrote about her tumultuous relationships with her parents and with actors Richard Burton and Christopher Jones, as well as with her own daughter's struggles with a heart defect. She received a $100,000 advance for it and sold paperback rights for $300,000.[18]

Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends (1992) was about Strasberg's friendship with Marilyn Monroe, whom she called a "surrogate sister" and a "member" of the Strasberg family for many years.[19]

Strasberg was working on a third book about her personal spiritual journey at the time of her death entitled Confessions of a New Age Heretic.[20]

Personal life

Before her marriage, Strasberg had relationships with Bobby Driscoll, Warren Beatty, Cary Grant, and Richard Burton.[21]

On September 25, 1965, Strasberg married actor Christopher Jones, with whom she had appeared in an episode of The Legend of Jesse James in Las Vegas.[22]

Their daughter, Jennifer Robin, was born six months later. The couple divorced in 1968.[23] Jennifer was born with a congenital birth defect, which Strasberg blamed on her and Jones's drug-taking.[1]


In the mid 1990s Strasberg was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although believed to be in remission, she died of the disease at her home in New York City on January 21, 1999, at the age of 60.[24]

Filmography and television

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Production Result
1956 Tony Award Best Actress in a Play The Diary of Anne Frank Nominated
1956 Theatre World Award The Diary of Anne Frank Won
1957 BAFTA Film Award Most Promising Newcomer to Film Picnic Nominated
1961 Mar de Plata Film Festival Best Actress Kapò Won
1963 Golden Globe Best Actress - Drama Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man Nominated


  1. Vallance, Tom. "Culture: Obituary: Susan Strasberg," The Independent (24 January 1999).
  2. WHERE TO DIAL TODAY: TV Picks a Juliet of Right Age Wolters, Larry. Chicago Daily Tribune 27 May 1954: c12.
  3. Not-So-Lazy Susan Berg, Louis. Los Angeles Times 18 Dec 1955: J20.
  4. ALL-STAR CAST SET FOR 'CRADLE SONG': Evans Signs Misses Hayes, Anderson, Strasberg and McKenna for TV Offering By VAL ADAMS. New York Times 28 Feb 1956: 63.
  5. Drama: 'Stagestruck' Aimed at Susan Strasberg Los Angeles Times 13 June 1956: B8.
  6. SUSAN STRASBERG GETS COMEDY ROLE: She Will Appear Sept. 12 in 'Time Remembered,' Play from French by Anouilh Wouk Comedy Is Due 2 Players to London By SAM ZOLOTOW. New York Times 14 June 1957: 21.
  7. Theatre: A Prologue to Greatness: ' Shadow of a Gunman' by O'Casey at Bijou By BROOKS ATKINSON. New York Times 21 Nov 1958: 26.
  8. Looking at Hollywood: Susan Strasberg to Star in Italian Movie, 'Kapo' Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 20 Feb 1960: n_a1.
  9. Grownup Susan Strasberg Used To Feel Old but Now Feels Young By William Glover. The Washington Post, Times Herald 5 Aug 1962: G3.
  10. SUSAN STRASBERG TO PLAY CAMILLE: Zeffirelli Will Stage Dumas Tragedy Here Next Fall By LOUIS CALTA. New York Times 11 Nov 1961: 15.
  11. Susan Strasberg Signed for Role Los Angeles Times 24 Sep 1965: C15.
  12. FILM CLIPS: Susan Comes Out of Her Slump Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 9 July 1977: b6.
  13. Will success smile again on Susan Strasberg? Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Chicago, Ill. [Chicago, Ill]30 Sep 1973: j3.
  14. Obituary: Susan Strasberg: Lucky star who failed to shine Bergan, Ronald. The Guardian; 25 Jan 1999: 013.
  15. Susan Strasberg Looks Back: Scenes From a Bittersweet Life: The Book's Beginning Frank Account of Affairs Mother's Bitterness Recalled By JUDY KLEMESRUD. New York Times 27 Apr 1980: 72.
  16. SUSAN STRASBERG: A STAR IS REBORN Polak, Maralyn Lois. Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia, Pa. [Philadelphia, Pa]11 Dec 1983: 11.
  17. "Berlinale: 1993 Juries". Retrieved 2011-05-29.
  18. Scenes from a life, played by Susan Strasberg Anderson, Jon. Chicago Tribune 6 July 1980: i1.
  19. Gussow, Mel (January 23, 1999). "ET Susan Strasberg, 60, Actress Lauded in 'Anne Frank,' Dies". New York Times. p. 2.
  20. Bosworth, Patricia (June 2003). "The Mentor and the Movie Star". Vanity Fair. p. 1.
  21. Smith, Kyle (February 8, 1999). "Frank Actress". People.
  22. Susan Strasberg Wed to Actor Chris Jones Chicago Tribune 20 Oct 1965: c3.
  23. Strasberg, Susan (May 5, 1980). "A Child Born Under a Square". People. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  24. Welkos, Robert W. (January 23, 1999). "Susan Strasberg; Stage, Film Actress, Daughter of Famed Acting Teacher". Los Angeles Times.
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