She stands out easily in a crowd with her wholesome beauty, knock-out figure and dazzling smile. Ever-radiant TV and film resident Susan Blakely found success on several paths she chose for herself over the years — first as a model, then as an award-winning actress. The trim and trendy blonde also enhanced a mild stream of popular films during the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, she is the daughter of U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Blakely. While growing up, she traveled extensively throughout the world with her family including Korea, Hawaii and, finally, Texas. Following a year of study at the University of Texas, Susan moved to New York and managed to secure a place for herself as a high-priced magazine and TV ad model. At the same time, she was encouraged to try her hand at acting and studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Married in 1969 to lawyer and screenwriting hopeful Todd Merer, she chanced a move to Hollywood to seek her fame and fortune.
Billed initially as Susie Blakely, she was cast in small, capricious, deb-like turns in such films as Savages (1972) (her debut) and The Way We Were (1973). Her first popular movie role came about surrounded by a high-and-mighty all-star cast in Irwin Allen’s epic disaster The Towering Inferno (1974), as the spoiled princess-like daughter of unscrupulous skyscraper builder William Holden and wife of callous, pretty-boy opportunist Richard Chamberlain. Lightweight as the role was, Susan willingly accepted the challenge of proving herself in Hollywood as more than just another starlet with a gorgeous face. She did…and more…by earning a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination for her exceptional work as “Julie Prescott” in the acclaimed TV mini-series epic Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) with Peter Strauss and Nick Nolte vying for her attention. It was star-making turns for all three leads.
This monumental acting opportunity kicked off a highly rewarding career in TV mini-movies, playing an array of flawed but fascinating and newsworthy ladies, including Hitler mistress Eva Braun opposite Anthony Hopkins in The Bunker (1981); tormented actress Frances Farmer in Will There Really Be a Morning? (1983); political wife Joan Bennett Kennedy in The Ted Kennedy Jr. Story (1986); and crime attorney Leslie Abramson in Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders (1994). Challenging roles continued to pour in that belied her pretty-girl image — ranging from drug addicts to a housewife who changes into a werewolf!
Less in the acting limelight these days, Susan nevertheless accomplished an award-winning turn in the low-profile film Hungry Hearts (2002), then starred on stage in the 2006 world premiere of “Diva!” at the La Jolla Playhouse. In recent years, she has broadened her horizons once again as a semi-precious jewelry designer…and once again she has met with great success. Divorced from her first husband in the 1970s, Susan remarried in 1982. Her present husband, media consultant, litigation and political adviser Steve Jaffe, has also reaped rewards as a film and television producer. Many of his projects have included Susan — the afore-mentioned Frances Farmer TV biography, the TV-movie A Cry for Love (1980), and the film Russian Holiday (1993) [aka Russian Roulette]. They reside in the Beverly Hills area.
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