Nationality: British. Born: Susannah Yolande Fletcher in London, England, 9 January 1941. Education: Attended Marr College, Troon, Scotland; Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, 1956–58. Family: Married Michael Wells, 1960 (divorced 1976), children: Sasha, Orlando. Career: On stage with provincial repertory companies; 1960—film debut in Tunes of Glory; 1964—on stage in Wings of the Dove; later roles in The Maids, 1974, Peter Pan, 1977, Hedda Gabler, 1981, and Agnes of God, 1983; 1982—in TV series We'll Meet Again; also Trainer and Devices and Desires, 1991; 1985—in TV mini-series Tender Is the Night. Awards: Best Supporting Actress, British Academy, for They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, 1969; Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for Images, 1972.
Films as Actress:
Tunes of Glory (Neame) (as Morag Sinclair); There Was a Crooked Man (Burge) (as Ellen)
The Greengage Summer (Loss of Innocence) (Lewis Gilbert) (as Joss Grey)
Freud (Freud: The Secret Passion) (Huston) (as Cecily Koertner)
Tom Jones (Richardson) (as Sophie Western)
The Seventh Dawn (Lewis Gilbert) (as Candace Trumpey); Scene Nun, Take One (Hatton) (as the actress)
Scruggs (Hart) (as Susan); Sands of the Kalahari (Endfield) (as Grace Monckton)
Kaleidoscope (The Bank Breaker) (Smight) (as Angel McGinnis); A Man for All Seasons (Zinnemann) (as Margaret More)
Mr. Sebastian (Sebastian) (David Greene) (as Becky Howard); Duffy (Parrish) (as Segolene); The Killing of Sister George (Aldrich) (as Alice "Childie" McNaught)
Lock Up Your Daughters (Coe) (as Hilaret); Oh! What a Lovely War (Attenborough) (as Eleanor); Battle of Britain (Hamilton) (as Section Officer Maggie Harvey); They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Pollack) (as Alice LeBlanc); Country Dance (Brotherly Love) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Hilary Dow)
Zee and Company (X, Y, and Zee) (Hutton) (as Stella); Jane Eyre (Delbert Mann—for TV) (title role); Happy Birthday, Wanda June (Robson) (as Penelope Ryan); Second Chance (Tewksbury—for TV)
Images (Altman) (as Cathryn, + story)
Gold (Hunt) (as Terry Steyner)
Conduct Unbecoming (Anderson) (as Mrs. Marjorie Scarlett); The Maids (Miles) (as Claire); That Lucky Touch (Miles) (as Julia Richardson)
Sky Riders (Hickox) (as Ellen Bracken); Eliza Fraser (Burstall) (title role)
Superman (Richard Donner) (as Lara); The Shout (Skolimowski) (as Rachel)
The Awakening (Newell) (as Jane Turner); Superman II (Lester) (as Lara); Long Shot (Hatton) (as herself); Falling in Love Again (In Love) (Paul) (as Sue Lewis, + co-sc); Loophole (Break In) (Quested) (as Dinah Booker)
We'll Meet Again (Wharmby—for TV)
Yellowbeard (Damski) (as Lady Churchill); Nelly's Version (Hatton) (as narrator)
A Christmas Carol (Clive Donner—for TV) (as Mrs. Cratchit); Macho (Gessner—for TV)
A Month in the Country (Lawrence); Star Quality (Dosser—for TV) (as Lorraine Barry)
Alice (Gruza); Daemon (Finbow); Thriller (Gessner—for TV); Walkie Talkie (Perkins)
Prettykill (Kaczender) (as Toni); Barbablu Barbablu (Carpi); Mio, moy mio (Grammatikov) (as The Weaver Woman); Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (Furie) (as voice of Lara)
Just Ask for a Diamond (Diamond's Edge) (Bayly) (as Lauren Bacardi); A Summer Story (Haggard) (as Mrs. Narracombe); American Roulette (Hatton—for TV)
Melancholia (Engel) (as Catherine Lanham Franck); En Handfull Tid (A Handful of Time) (Asphaug)
Fate (Paul); The Man from the Pru (Rohrer—for TV) (as Amy Wallace)
Illusions (Kulle) (as Dr. Sanders)
Piccolo Grande Amore (Pretty Princess) (Vanzina) (as Queen Christina); The Higher Mortals (Finbow) (as Miss Thorogood)
Loop (Niblo) (as Olivia)
So This Is Romance?
St. Patrick: The Irish Legend (Robert Hughes—for TV) (as Concessa)
By YORK: books—
In Search of Unicorns, London, 1973.
Lark's Castle, London, 1974.
The Big One, edited by York, London, 1984.
By YORK: articles—
"Experiences," interview with D. Elley, in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1972.
"House of York," interview with J. Williams, in Films Illustrated (London), 25 November 1972.
Interview with J. Calendo, in Interview (New York), January 1973.
"Susannah York: Realization and Relationships," interview in Films (London), April 1981.
On YORK: articles—
Lawrenson, H., "Susannah York," in Show (Hollywood), January 1962.
Elley, D., "Wistfulness and Dry Hankies: Susannah York," in Focus on Film (London), Summer 1972.
"Susannah!," in Harper's Bazaar (New York), September 1981.
Film a Doba (Prague), October 1984.
* * *
When Susannah York started her career, one might have been tempted to think of her merely as the thinking man's bimbo with her blond, engaging loveliness and ingenuous blue eyes. She has, however, tackled a wide variety of roles in her film career and given the lie to this crass assumption.
After her first film role, as Alec Guinness's daughter in Tunes of Glory, Guinness called her "the best thing in films since Audrey Hepburn." York also played a sweet young thing in the Norman Wisdom comedy There Was a Crooked Man, and a lovesick schoolgirl in The Greengage Summer with Kenneth More, then appeared opposite Montgomery Clift in John Huston's Freud. The role that made her name, however, was as the captivating, innocent, and sensuous Sophie Western opposite Albert Finney in Tom Jones. After three fairly dire American films, she departed from her usual parts to play Sir Thomas More's grave and intellectual daughter in A Man for All Seasons and the passive and childlike lesbian roommate of Beryl Reid in The Killing of Sister George amidst all the publicity attendant upon her love scene with Coral Browne. In 1969 she won an Oscar for her performance as a blond flapper/movie aspirant in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? She also made Sky Riders with James Coburn, starred with Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Caine in Zee and Company, and appeared in a television film of Jane Eyre with George C. Scott.
While her roles in the 1960s and 1970s made her an international name, superstardom eluded her. One of her most interesting films of this period was Robert Altman's dreamlike psycho-thriller Images in which she played an author of children's books, which she subsequently became in real life.
Her most recent role in a major film was as Christopher Reeve's birth mother on the planet Krypton in the first two Superman films; her voice alone returned for the final installment in the series, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. She continues to remain active in films for British and American television—among the most interesting recent examples of which was The Man from the Pru, a fictional recounting of Britain's notorious Wallace murder case (the same case that inspired the play and film Dial M for Murder), co-starring Jonathan Pryce.
—Sylvia Paskin, updated by John McCarty