Susie and I have crossed paths many times during this past year on Cubits. We've become very good friends. It doesn't seem to matter that I grew up watching Gale Storm playing in My Little Margie on my black and white TV, while Susie was swimming with Gale and her children in the family pool. It doesn't matter that while I watched every episode of Lassie, one of the Lassie dogs lived across the street from Susie. I haven't asked her yet if she ever met Howdy Doody, but I suppose she did. This article has been a fun venture for me, mostly because I've realized that no matter where we grow up, values and dreams quite often remain the same.
I've discovered that it's more fun for you (and for me) if I let my Spotlight guest do most of the talking. Susie's story is so much fun it doesn't need to be interrupted anyway. I do have to warn you, even though she jumps from one subject to another pretty quickly (some of us have that habit), she always comes right back to her subject. If you are reading about her studies in Germany and you suddenly find yourself back in San Francisco enjoying a concert in the park with her, just remember, I warned you. It's those leaps and bounds that make her so interesting.
I asked her to give us some early highlights and she sent me a list. I thought I'd share it with you first; it will give you a preview of things to come. Come away with me now and let's enjoy the very interesting world of Susie Williams. We know her as Aguane...
Susie, would you start by giving us some very brief highlights from your life?
**My grandparents owned a big department store in San Francisco so I could pretty much have anything I wanted, plus they were extremely generous.
**I lived in L.A. amongst the Stars in the '50s-early '60s. I lived across the street from Lassie and knew Lt. Rip Masters and that whole crowd.
**I moved to San Francisco and went to a private girls school.
**I majored in fine art and political science, just 2 years in college.
**I keep in touch weekly with the one person on this earth who has known me longer than anyone else. Most of my good friends I've known for at least 40 years and keep in touch with them monthly.
**The most remarkable person I ever knew was my third and closest cousin who invented automatic pilot for aviation. Also, he did all of the guidance for the Apollo program.
**I saw all of the rock groups of the '60s-70's EXCEPT the Stones ;(
**I worked at Haight Ashbury Medical Clinic when it was first in an old Victorian.
**I supported myself for 20 years doing design work: art, needlework, and teaching some commissioned work for the likes of Katherine Crosby, Patty Hearst's mom, Mrs. Bechtle, etc.
**I did stocks and bonds, investing, for about 30 years in various capacities
**Then there was the venture capital firm, first ever formally organized in the US (we funded Coca Cola/Minute Maid and 100s of IPOs). I was an events organizer making sure the place cards were in the right seat and the limos arrived, etc.
**I've been to Hawaii 11 times, Europe 3 times and Japan twice.
**I've worked in a major financial institution for the last 17 years and I'M LOOKING TO RETIRE IN A FEW MONTHS.
**I'll start playing golf again and travel a little more!
**You'd think I was 124 years old, not almost 64!
And now for the details, which are even better than the highlights!
I spent age 5 through 15 in Encino, California. I learned how to put makup on at a very early age. Television was new and performed in front of a live audience and sometimes it was even broadcast live. There were possibilities for just about anyone to break into the business. My parents were enthralled with showbiz oozing from every walk of life. My dad was a stockbroker in those days and friends with lots of stars. We’d have them over for bar-be-ques: George Reeves (Superman), Vince Edwards (Dr. Ben Casey), Edd Byrnes of 77 Sunset Strip (Cookie, Cookie lend me your comb), the judge on Perry Mason, the guy who sang the Beverly Hillbillies song, Lt. Rip Masters on Rin Tin Tin.
I lived across the street from one of the Lassies. There were several performing on any one episode. Some dogs were trained to go to Timmy, save Timmy, jump over fences; all trained to do different tricks. My extended neighborhood included lots of children of stars and child stars. We all attended the same elementary and junior high schools. They were just friends but they happened to have jobs. Some of the kids I was friends with were Sally Field, Lori Martin (her stage name, "National Velvet"), Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Billy Eckstein's son, Karen Uris, daughter of Leon the wonderful author. (He taught me how to toss paper away. He was writing Exodus on a typewriter in a small cottage at the back of their property. There was a waste basket next to his desk. When he'd err on a page he'd rip the page out of the typewriter and let it slide into the waste basket. He never crumbled the paper into a wad; he said it takes up too much room in the basket too quickly. More sheets can fit into the basket if they're not crumpled.)
Lots of friends had extra parts on TV episodes. It was hilarious watching Dennis Weaver get so excited about his son playing Little League. There were Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows' boys, Gale Storm’s sons, Gary Lewis (son of Jerry), Judy Silverman (daughter of Fred-NBC). We all attended a huge junior high/high school in Van Nuys called Birmingham. We were just kids, doing what kids do, getting into trouble and enjoying our youth and all the perks of living in the San Fernando Valley; shopping on Ventura Boulevard and going to the beach at Zuma, San Clemente or Malibu. I kind of wonder what my life would look like if I had not moved to Northern California in 1963. I wonder that I might have been a screenwriter or something along those lines. I loved writing stories in those days. Well, gee, I was surrounded by “stories”. I keep in touch with several of my L.A. friends from that time and the majority are "in the business".
There was absolutely no difference between those child stars/working children compared to those not working. Oh, one difference may be that they seemed to perform better in classes. I think they were more controlled, disciplined, working within a schedule. They tended to be leaders, didn't mind being the center of attention, even sought it out, and tended to be in student government. Certainly, Sally Field accomplished this.
I was 20 years old and volunteered at the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic in the summer of '67 into the fall. It was founded in '67. I was in Wurzburg, Germany for a college exchange program in Winter/Spring 1967. I met a young woman from the San Francisco Peninsula who was in my German classes at the University of Wurzburg. We became great friends, so once we returned to the Peninsula we stayed in touch. She was a nurse at Peninsula Hospital and a little "counterculture". Joyce began volunteering medical services at the Haight Ashbury Clinic on Clayton in San Francisco. She had a very unreliable Rambler with paintings of Babar all over the vehicle. So '60s! She asked me if I wanted to volunteer with her and drive her up there two days a week. I was in college at the time and could fit this into the schedule. So, twice a week we'd drive from Palo Alto up to The Haight to volunteer. The only thing I could really contribute was a taxi service and changing bed linens.
The clinic was in an old San Francisco neighborhood of modest Victorian-style homes and near the Panhandle. At this time in the social revolution things were deteriorating: bad drugs, homelessness, people surviving off the grid, mental illness and no assistance. Dr. David Smith opened the Clinic. It seemed to serve as respite for people in need who could be diagnosed and possibly treated for mild conditions. Some could not be treated and needed the hospital. My "job" was to meet the patient at the clinic and take the patient to one of a few hospitals in the area who could admit the patient. Almost all of the people I helped with transportation were suffering from hepatitis (a condition probably brought on by sharing needles). Those suffering had very, very high fever, shakes, nausea and were in bad shape to start out with. This was during the "death of the hippie". I worked at the clinic for about 3 months. The Haight was thriving but in a downward transition.
The old Victorian the clinic was housed in was modest, as I mentioned; not a beautiful specimen like the "Painted Ladies" you hear about. As I remember it was white and three stories. Patients entered from the front entrance on the street. I entered from the back. Volunteers would climb up a couple of flights of stairs and arrive at an office area. Mind you this was VERY rustic. At that time there was little more than bookshelves, some chairs and sofas and a couple of desks in the reception area. The Victorians are mostly composed of a series of rooms, probably with windows and possibly with bay windows, always with beautiful bones and possibilities and never enough running water. For the most part the Victorian was a hull for a series of rooms with donated mattresses placed in an orderly manner over the flooring. Patients lay waiting to be diagnosed or treated or referred to the hospital. I transported many grateful very sick folks over the few months I was there.
The clinic still serves the poor in need today and has become the model for free clinics throughout the country.
Now about Gale Storm:
Her real name was Josephine Bonnell. She had three sons, Phil, Peter and Paul and a daughter, Susie. I was friends with Peter and Paul. Paul married the sister of a good friend of mine, (I still keep in touch with her brother who is a truck driver living in Tennessee) and Peter married my good friend, Ginny. Jo died last year. She lived next door to my best friend, Tyla. She'd bring Susie over for swimming and play and she always brought her cigarettes. HEAVY smoker, as was Shirley Temple. Yep, I knew Curly Top. She taught me to dance and "kick". I went to high school (the private girls school) with her daughter, Susan (by John Agar).
I do have to add...about Shirley:
My maternal grandmother LOVED her. My mom was born about the same time as Shirley. In this transient world how could I be so lucky as to attend the same school as my maternal grandfather and my mother? When my mom was in grade school Shirley Temple had several new movie releases. My grandmother would go to the school and tell the head mistress she needed to take mom out for a doctor appointment. She'd take her to a Shirley Temple movie. I mean this is DECADES ago. My mom hated Shirley 'cause it seemed her mother liked Shirley more than her. My mom was an only child, to boot. Shirley eventually lived in Woodside, California about 3 miles from my house, after marrying Charles Black. We all belonged to the same club. I went to high school with Susan, as I mentioned, and Shirley was very active at the school with choreography for school plays, etc. At dinner at "the club" she'd SMOKE cigarettes WHILE eating. But, I must say she is one of the very nicest, more gracious and fun women I've ever met.
Suddenly, just as I was getting 'stars' in my eyes, Susie was missing from my Cmail. I thought I might have to send out a search party for her, but late in the evening she returned. I asked where she had been because I was anxious to hear more about her life; what she told me gave a glimpse into another facet of her story:
I spent about 5 hours in the yard today and got a lot done. Planted all flowers but not the lettuce. Birdies love to roam the garden, find the lettuce and eat it. I need to put it into containers so they leave it alone. I need another, yet ANOTHER container!
I think I've lost two small trees during this last freeze. I need to saw them down and go from there. Both are about 10 feet. I wasn't VERY fond of them so either way, if they live... fine, if not, that's ok, too.
The weather here today was rather squirrely. Cold and windy in the AM with clear blue skies. Around 1 pm it was still windy but a warmer wind. You never know about the desert. The afternoon was very nice in the sun. When the sun settles and shadows spill across the yard it can get quite cool. Mind you, those of us living in Arizona in the 110 degree heat have a different physiological air-conditioning phenom going on. Our capillaries are closer to the skin surface in order to cool during the heat. When I lived in San Francisco and vacationed in Hawaii I was VERY warm in the 85 degree heat and humidity. When I go to Hawaii now, after living in Arizona for 17 years, I am down right cold in the 85 degree heat and 80% humidity.
I'm fascinated with the weather and geology; we had an earthquake in Arizona today!!!!!!!!!! Near Sedona. Again, unusual.
Another jump, as we go from the weather in Arizona eastward to DC...told you this story was in leaps and bounds...
I LOVE investigative work and research on any topic including criminals. As a young teen I could plow through three Nancy Drew books in a day. My idol. I had an unfulfilled desire to be in the FBI. At 18 I went to D.C. and my first stop was the Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters. I took the tour in 1965. At that time there were no female employees servicing as agents. I was crushed. That's not true these days.
I have a HUGE sense of connectivity, the relationships of people, events, timing, links and things. I think that sense is what drives my interest in investigations. One needs that attribute to do well in investigations. Investigations are really just the result of my need to "connect the dots". Having this sense of connectivity and relationship definitely helps me in my everyday life. I'm constantly reminded of "what do I REALLY know?" It's very difficult for me to make assumptions because I tend to look and accept the facts. It kind of diminishes the element of "romance". If I look at an empty garage, for instance, one might assume no one is at home, when in fact, all you REALLY know is that there isn't a vehicle in the garage.
Much as I love to delve into the facts, I seek what is not obvious, what in this scene is missing, what did they NOT say? All of these influences help me all the time in lots of situations. I learned "on the job" about this sort of approach to problem solving and it's stuck with me. It helps me think clearly and objectively. Also, all of these qualities help sort out the facts and assumptions and mythology. They all have their place and value. I appreciate "stories", sometimes stories can lead you to the truth. I'm probably not making sense but in the end, the work I did using investigative tools has enhanced the way I conduct myself in a public place, my home, and my surroundings; not in a paranoid state but in an enhanced awareness. All things considered, I think the investigative and questioning state leads Me (at least) to a position of great gratitude and appreciation. A view that there is no isolation, all things, times and people connect somehow; even in a horrible event such as what happened in Tucson last month.
I love and admire my granny more than just about anyone. Lots of people did!
My grandmother was a lovely lady. She taught me to accept compliments and gifts with graciousness. She taught me that friends wish to have their gifts accepted with grace, it gives THEM pleasure. And likewise it's the little thoughts that add up. And she taught me about caring and nurturing friendship. She taught me to be gentle with friendship and to choose and maintain friends with care. The timing of friendships is important, she said, and not all of our friends remain in our lives. She taught me the value of "things". She shared that it's wiser to buy only a few nice things, not trendy clothing or accessories or furniture. She was loved by many people. She lived to love and loved to live. She was kind of my own Auntie Mame!
When my grandmother was about 80 she used to say she'd get up early in the morning just to make sure she COULD get up! I look forward to getting up at my leisure without an alarm clock when I retire. I've been awakened by an alarm clock for about 59 years. Enough is enough. I do like to get up early to check the stock markets and the state of the world and my garden. I'm a news junkie, did I tell you? I never, ever watch network television.
Yes, Floie, my grandmother, was a GREAT influence on the four of us. She'd boldly walk into my two brothers' grade school classrooms and tell the teacher she needed to take them to the doctor. She'd whisk them away and take them to a Giants game at Candlestick Park. She always had season seats directly behind home plate. One year the San Francisco Chronicle had a front page pic on the "green sheet" (sport page) with her and my two brothers... playing hooky. Teacher was not amused.
Dad (Marines WWII, South Pacific) died about 10 years ago. I lost Mom 2 years ago. My parents were both Stanford grads. I'm the oldest of four. My sister is three years my junior, one dear brother is 8 years my junior and another dear brother is 13 years younger.
Two X-husbands, no children. I never really wanted children.
I own my home, I love to garden and I love yoga.
What are my plans, my hopes?
My brother was engaged to a gal who became a very good friend of mine. On Dec. 1, 1979 at about midnight, she lost control of the car she was driving and flew off the road only to meet the road below head on. My brother and I and other friends went "through her things" and found several papers with quotes she had captured. One was, "A friend in a woman is a friend in deed", author unknown. She was exactly that. We put it on the program for her funeral.
Aside from building on your personal health there is nothing more important than nurturing those you care for. My wish is to nurture the friendships I've maintained over these many years. I have many, many dear friends I keep in touch with. I look forward to sharing our continuing lives, aches and pains, loves and joys. Also, after retirement I'm planning on visiting old friends who've moved from Phoenix or from San Francisco to other parts of the country. It'll be a great opportunity for me and those friends.
I loved my dear Bert, my Standard Poodle. He was an exceptional companion. I have so many allergies, so when I decided to adopt a dog (two in this case) I decided on Standard Poodles. Bert and Lex were my dear Poodles. Going forward, in retirement, I plan to foster Standard Poodles.
I love to wake up naturally. It may sound funny but I believe that when I wake up naturally my sensory is better. I can't smell or taste. For some reason when I wake up naturally I have a better chance of smelling and tasting. For this reason alone I'm looking forward to retirement!
As a teen, growing up with some famous people of the day (the late '50s and '60s) allowed me to see and observe people of all walks of life, famous or not famous. Of course, I never pursued a career in entertainment like most of my friends in the Los Angeles area, but I did share a lot of their work and fame. I would read their scripts with them, helping them prep for a reading or audition, or prep for a part they landed. I learned about make-up application and colors and clothing choices and how those elements add or distract from a character. Knowing some of those people as a teen or young adult more or less eliminated the view one could take of awe or being "star struck". In the business and art world and later in my working career, I met many very successful and even famous people. I was always able to move and converse with them with much ease. I think it allows me to enjoy a moment with them and hopefully they enjoy a moment with me, too. Interesting, though, that I'm friends with a guy I've known since we were 5 years old. He's been an executive producer in "Hollyweird" for many decades and made many films. Even today he is thrilled to meet big, big stars just to gaze into their eyes and give a big grin. So, to summarize, I think knowing famous people at an early age prepared me for my life that progressed to a place where I'd continue to meet famous, successful people and feel comfortable and confident while sharing time with them.
I have collaborated on 3 movie scripts. Psycho-thrillers. Amazing process. In our case, the characters we created took over the story and told us what to write and where the story was going. The scripts were completed and entered into several contests. No winners. Nothing lost. It's a very fun and intense process!
I've traveled a fair amount. I went to college for a semester in Wurzburg, Germany. Traveled to Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan twice, Europe (mostly Italy) 3 times and around the U.S. a bit (Hawaii nine times). I like traveling and meeting people and sightseeing. I intend to take more than a few trips after I retire this year. I'd love to see Argentina!
Are there things I wish were different? That's easy. I earned a good living for about 20 years doing my needlework art and craft. Doing art can be a lonely effort; you are stuck in a room painting away. I did mostly consignment work where I'd visit a client's home, take pics and work up a scheme for a custom designed piece. I'd work up the design and the client would execute the needlework. After awhile I craved to be with people. It led me to the world of financial services where I worked for a long time: investment banking, brokerage, venture capital. I made a very good, sensible living. However, I wish now I had stayed in the art world. I now have the opportunity to satisfy my urge to paint just as soon as I retire. Another thing I wish I'd done was fall in love with a man and spend 50 years with one person. My grandparents did this and it was just so sweet and safe. Both of my marriages ended in divorces so I'll never have that opportunity. I am very blessed, however, to maintain strong friendships for 40-50 years.
One thing I wish I could change, too, is the quality of my memory. I have a memory like a steel trap. Almost nothing slips away. Maybe that will change with time or maybe not. But, in a way, having a really great memory holds you back from looking forward. If you hear a song in a movie or on radio or in a grocery store, it takes you back...and if you have a really great memory you spend a lot of time "back there".
Advice? Take responsibility for your happiness and your future. Everyone is responsible for her own baggage. If she wants to put it on the train with her... it's still her baggage.
Also, something I would change, another thing I would change: I don't trust equipment. I would never take a hot air balloon ride. It's difficult for me to fly, difficult to ride in a boat, difficult to ride on a ski lift, etc. I've always had a hard time with equipment. To prove I'm right, I was in a car that was driven off a cliff into a stream - 225 feet down. Makes one fearful and unadventurous.
I think I'm thinking along these lines because I'm SERIOUSLY PLANNING to retire in March.... then what? Totally unknown. I get to "Plan" my life. So what will it look like? I do have ideas. I'm not like a lot of women; I didn't have kids so my "grandkids" don't exist. I don't have a husband so "traveling together" won't happen.
I will sleep. Late awakenings, night projects/work. That's me. Even now, no matter the place in time, I don't wake up until 2 p.m. I could care less about the early part of the day. I mean I like a good sunrise and dew and "Meet the Press" on Sunday mornings but I don't really wake up until 2 p.m. This makes an early morning tee time a little out of the question. It's something I think about for retirement, which of course, is a means to making new "memories".
Personally, going forward with my path, I'm very keen on maintaining my good health, educating myself about good health, continuing my yoga and maintaining optimism and good friendships. Friends are everything.
When I was friends with stars, it was during a different era. They were simply my friends. It's much different now. My childhood friend was Executive Producer for Dreamworks for 10 years. He's working on Spiderman 4 (I think) at the moment. He's made movies with Eddie Murphy, $20M per picture, PLUS $8M to support his entourage AND he has his own bus. Dreamworks pays him to use his own bus. This kind of "fame" wasn't the norm even for a very famous person in 1960s when I grew I up L.A.
I eat with my brain; poached salmon almost daily, red peppers, radishes, raw squash, shallots and scallions, occasional 'schrooms, spinach, blueberries, raspberries, whole grain breads only in small quantity and brown rice, soy yogurt, couple of eggs a week, 2 pieces of bacon, almond milk, various nuts, coffee, green tea, wine, plenty of water, a cookie or two a week, 80% cocoa chocolate, olive oil, lemons, oranges, various additions including occasional filet mignon - all organic for the most part.
I'm extremely auto immune allergic to cow's milk and ANY product containing it, including chips and milk chocolate, PLUS I cannot taste and I cannot smell. I don't binge or over eat or anything like that. There is no point. I eat for nutrition only.
Sometimes, maybe one day a month I can smell something, then I will indulge in a chocolate covered cherry from See's or a sliver of blue goat cheese.
I can detect salt, sweet, sour and spice, so I do eat Mexican, Sri Lankan, East Indian foods.
I have no problem leaving food on my plate though I never load it up. I have no problem passing on a piece of Safeway cake, why bother? I can get a piece of cake with no chemicals, real food ingredients that actually may taste good (on a good taste day). I think it's important, too, to remember that at 4 p.m. when you see a tray of Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies, it will not be the last time you see a tray of cookies, so you don't need to eat more than one. I'm happy with 1/2 of one. I have 2 lbs of See's candy in my fridge... it's been there for a month. I can eat one piece a week or more if I like. I don't want to eat the whole box, I don't need to.
How am I doing, Sharon? Anything I've left out?
Ummmmm?? Oh, well, let's see...we've been to Germany and Haight Ashbury, on to DC and Italy; we've worked in your garden, said no to chocolate, planned your retirement, and looked in on your friends. I think that about does it, Susie. I love how you value friendships, and I will forever hold onto your Grandmother Floie's life theme: 'Live to love and love to live.' How beautiful!
For many nights these past weeks, I eagerly looked forward to Susie's Cmails, knowing I'd be captivated by her words. At one point I casually mentioned that she should have a blog and she told me that her cousin who lives in Paris had also suggested a blog.
Susie's response? Well, here it is:
"In the end, I find it difficult to even think that anything I have to say is worth reading."
Susie, thank you for a wonderfully fast paced adventure. I won't even comment on your last statement, except to say that your words give us all cause to re-examine our own perceptions of what lies around us. Worth reading? Absolutely, over and over again.
Folks, thank you for joining us. Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them, and to scroll over them for a description. Feel free to leave comments in the threads that follow this article.
Thank you so much for this interview, Susie, I thoroughly enjoyed my glimpse into your world. And, Susie, before you go, Happy Retirement, and, well, just one more thing...what about Howdy Doody?