Suzanne Somers came to fame as the bubbly, ditzy–but–lovable character of Chrissy in the 1970s situation comedy series, "Three's Company." Despite having established herself as an icon of the era, she abruptly left the series following a salary disagreement—causing her displacement from a star on the A–list to a has–been almost overnight. The buoyant Somers moved on, however, and launched a career as a nightclub performer in Las Vegas before landing new opportunities in television. She and her husband also established a successful business promoting a then–unusual exercise item, the ThighMaster, which grew to become one of the biggest fads of the 1990s. Hugely successful at marketing herself, Somers has continued to keep her name out there with a line of jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, a generous publishing contract for her memoirs, and a series of diet and fitness books that has already sold millions of copies.
Somers was born on October 16, 1946, in San Bruno, California, the daughter of Francis ("Frank") and Marion Elizabeth (Turner) Mahoney. One of four children, she was raised in a family that was ostensibly close and prosperous, but suffered from internal disruption due to her father's drinking. Somers attended Mercy High School, where her studies were affected by her father's all night rages. She had trouble doing her homework due to the environment at home and often fell asleep in class. However, she won the lead in the school musical, Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, and later noted in her autobiographical Keeping Secrets, "Thank God for music. It was the only thing keeping me in school. I got A's in music." At the age of 14 she was expelled from school for writing sexually suggestive notes to a boy, even though they were all fantasy, and she never sent them. She then transferred to Capuchino High School in San Bruno. There, she continued to act in school plays and graduated in 1964.
While attending Lone Mountain College on a music scholarship, also known as San Francisco College for Women, she became pregnant and married Bruce Somers, her high school sweetheart, on 15 April 1965. Their son, Bruce Jr., was born in November of 1965. Afterward, she began classes at a modeling school and found work as a nurse's aide while her husband attended law school. Unsatisfied with her marriage and her life, she divorced and moved into an apartment in Sausalito, raising her son on her own. Forced to support herself with odd jobs, Somers endeavored to get her modeling career off the ground. Memorably, her first assignment was to lie in traction at an American Medical Association convention. Later, she landed some advertising work and began to get noticed in the industry.
After her first few appearances in box–office–hit movies, Somers met Alan Hamel, a former talk show host and manager, who was married when they began seeing each other in 1968. Their relationship endured, and he divorced his wife and married Somers in 1977. Hamel has two children, Stephen and Leslie, from his first marriage. Somers and Hamel reside in Malibu, California, and have one granddaughter. Her fan site on the Web is at http://www.geocities.com/suzannefan/.
Somers has twice won the People's Choice Award for favorite actress in a new series (1977 and 1991) and was named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year in 1986. In addition to maintaining her various businesses, Somers has founded the Suzanne Somers Institute for the Effects of Addiction on Families. Its goal is to set up outpatient centers in every major city in the United States for treating addicts and family members of addicts. Somers also presented material on the subject to a U.S. Senate committee in 1991.
Somers was starting to scrape up more modeling work and had made a few small appearances in television shows and films when she got her first breakthrough role in a tiny part as the beautiful blonde in a convertible in the 1973 George Lucas film, American Graffiti. That same year, she appeared in Magnum Force, a Clint Eastwood movie. Both were box office hits, and the American Graffiti role, despite being small, won her a legion of admirers and a positive reception in Hollywood.
Though Somers also published a book of poetry in 1973, Touch Me Again, her acting work received much more attention than her literary talents. She landed a guest appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson after the release of American Graffiti, and eventually moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on her career. In April of 1977 she auditioned for the situation comedy "Three's Company," about two women who share an apartment with a male roommate who must pretend that he is homosexual in order for the landlord to consent to the unusual living arrangement. Somers played Chrissy Snow, the stereotypical more–bust–than–brain blonde, and became one of the biggest icons of the 1970s, on par with Farrah Fawcett, star of the series "Charlie's Angels."
"Three's Company" was a smash hit. It costarred Jack Ritter as Jack Tripper and Joyce DeWitt as Janet Wood, the two roommates. The top–rated series was so big, it landed Somers on the cover of 55 magazines in one year; the news magazine show, "60 Minutes," also profiled her. She won a People's Choice Award for favorite actress in a new series and was nominated for a Golden Globe in 1979. She also signed a deal to appear in two feature films, Yesterday's Heroin 1979 and Nothing Personal with Donald Sutherland in 1980.
In the meantime, Somers had hired Fawcett's publicist, Jay Bernstein, to work his magic on her as well. However, Bernstein had persuaded Fawcett to leave her series for bigger opportunities, and many at the ABC network held a grudge against him for it; Somers' career suffered because of it. In 1980 her husband took over managing her and helped her forge a new image as a nightclub entertainer in Las Vegas. Somers wanted to gear up for a singing career, so Hamel arranged a deal for her to appear at the MGM Grand Hotel eight weeks a year for two years. After working on the set of "Three's Company" each day, she would rehearse her Vegas act until the wee hours of the morning. These were the golden years for Somers, when her bookings thrived, and her name was high on the neon marquees. She toured various clubs across America and also performed for U.S. Navy troops aboard the U.S.S. Ranger, along with Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marie Osmond.
As Somers related in her 1998 book, After the Fall, back on the set of the TV series, her relationship with her costars, Ritter and DeWitt, began to deteriorate. When her five–year contract was up, Somers tried to negotiate a monetary raise equal to that of the male costar, John Ritter. Instead of a raise, she was written out of the script. The media characterized her as the "greedy" star, and the stigma remained for nearly a decade. However, the ratings for "Three's Company" plunged after her departure, and the series ended in 1984.
Somers tried to land more substantial roles, but found that she had been branded a troublemaker and could not find work. In 1984 she landed a role in the high–profile musical, The Moulin Rouge, being produced at the Las Vegas Hilton—and transformed it from a flop to a sell–out success. She was named Las Vegas entertainer of the year in 1986. By 1987 she was asked to star in a new television series, "She's the Sheriff," about a woman who takes over as the town law officer after her husband's death. However, it was canceled after two seasons.
Feeling fatigued from her whirlwind career and having dropped to about 92 pounds in weight, Somers took some time off from acting. She wrote Keeping Secrets, an autobiography that dealt explicitly with her father's alcoholism and its effect on her entire family. Published in 1988, it reached number one on the New York Times best–seller list. Subsequently she and her family made a heart–wrenching appearance on the "Phil Donahue Show", and Somers ended up speaking on a bevy of other talk shows as well, including "Sally Jesse Raphael," "Good Morning America," and "The Tonight Show." She also began giving lectures at hospitals, universities, and corporations, speaking of her experiences and of forgiveness. As she later wrote in After the Fall, "During these times, I realized the tremendous opportunity I had been given on 'Three's Company.' The pettiness of my departure seemed insignificant compared with the platform I had been given as a result of the exposure and fame I had won during my years on the show. Chrissy had made me lovable and trusted. That is who my audiences thought they would meet. Instead, they met the real me; and to my good fortune, they were not disappointed." Later she published Wednesday's Children, a book of interviews with people from abusive families.
Chronology: Suzanne Somers
1946: Born in San Bruno, CA.
1964: Graduated from high school.
1965: Married Bruce Somers and has son, Bruce, Jr.
1968: Began dating Alan Hamel.
1973: Played first breakthrough role in American Graffiti.
1977: Married Alan Hamel.
1977: "Three's Company" debuted and became an instant hit.
1981: Left "Three's Company."
1986: Earned Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year award.
1988: Published best–seller, Keeping Secrets.
1997: Published best–seller, Suzanne Somers' Eat Great, Lose Weight.
1998: Published After the Fall.
Meanwhile, Somers was seeking a way to keep her career going without the strain of making constant appearances. When her husband came in contact with a man trying to market a piece of exercise equipment that had been in existence for 20 years, Somers was doubtful. Notwithstanding, she agreed to meet with the man, who showed her what he called the V–Toner, an exercise device for shaping up the torso, shoulders, and biceps. Somers asked if it would work on inner thighs, and he said yes. She and her husband renamed it the ThighMaster and took a partnership interest in the company.
It was a good match for the leggy Somers, and in no time, the ThighMaster went from being an obscure toning device to a piece of popular culture. "Saturday Night Live" and other television shows worked it into their gigs; and it showed up in a number of popular films including Heat, Forever Young, and The Nutty Professor. Even then–President George Bush made a joke out of it in a speech. Soon, "ThighMaster" had become an entry in the American dictionary and used in a Trivial Pursuit game question. The product was selling in the millions. Eventually, Somers and her husband bought out the other half of the company, now called "Body Solutions." On a roll, Somers next branched out to sell a line of jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, becoming one of the first celebrities to get involved with home shopping enterprises.
In 1991 she began costarring with Patrick Duffy in a new sitcom called "Step by Step," an updated version of "The Brady Bunch." The show ran until 1998, and in 1991 Somers won another People's Choice Award for her role in this series. Also in 1991, Somers served as executive producer and starred in a made–for–television movie based on Keeping Secrets. As time went on, she landed roles in a number of television movies and a cameo in the 1994 John Waters feature "Serial Mom." In 1998 Somers co–hosted a new generation of the hit television series, "Candid Camera," along with Peter Funt, son of the program's original founder, Alan Funt. She also starred in a 1998 television movie, No Laughing Matter, playing an alcoholic mother and tried her hand at romantic comedy again in the 2001 film, Say It Isn't So.
A few years prior, she began making workout videos and added the ButtMaster to her product line, though later she told Joel Stein in Time that "the ButtMaster got a raw deal. There were certain religious groups that picketed stores objecting to the name. We had to repackage it as the Lower Body Exerciser." Then in 1997 Somers penned Suzanne Somers' Eat Great, Lose Weight, a book that "isn't a diet; it's how to change the way you eat so you can eat what you want and never put on a pound," she told Craig Modderno in TV Guide. It included more than 100 of her personal favorite recipes and remained on best–seller lists through 2001.
Somers' recent focus continues to be on health and nutrition books, including Suzanne Somers' Get Skinny on Fabulous Food, and Suzanne Somers' 365 Ways to Change Your Life, both released in 1999, and Somersize Desserts, published in 2001.
Social and Economic Impact
The resilient Suzanne Somers has always touched people with her candor as well as her humor. She has shared with them her dysfunctional childhood, her behind–the–scenes acting career, and, more recently, her bout with breast cancer. Her books have remained best–sellers—evincing a palpable form of "thank you" from a loyal public. With some of the profits from royalties, Somers has founded the Suzanne Somers Institute for the Effects of Addiction on Families, giving back to the community that has supported her through thick and thin.
Sources of Information
c/o Chasin Agency
190 N. Canon Dr., Ste. 201
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Crute, Sheree. "Breast Defense."Heart & Soul, August 2001.
"Health Bestsellers." Los Angeles Times, 03 September 2001.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 1. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 2001.
Sutton, Judith. "Somersize Desserts (Book Review)." Library Journal, 1 August 2001.
"Suzanne Somers Biography." Available at http://www.geocities.com/suzannefan/bio.htm.
Terry–Azios, Diana A. "Films for the Perfect Date." Hispanic, January/February 2001.
"Where Are They Now?" Biography, February 2001.
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