Longtime character actress Susan French died Sunday April 6 in Santa Monica, Calif., after a long illness. She was 91.
Founder of Beverly Hills-based Theater 40 (named after her mailing address), L.A.-born and bred thesp (nee Susan French Moultrie) was the daughter of L.A. mover-and-shaker Lloyd Moultrie, lawyer to such showbiz luminaries as George Arliss, Charlie Evans, Frank Bacon and other vaudevillians and movie stars, around whom French grew up.
(An accomplished horse rider, she even tried out for polo at Will Rogers’ polo grounds, did well, yet wasn’t accepted, and she couldn’t understand why. It wasn’t until years later, her granddaughter Laura Scott said, that French found out her protective father had turned to Rogers and said, “Under no circumstances is my daughter to be allowed to ride” on the polo team.)
Surrounded as she was with showbiz, it wasn’t unexpected that she would catch the acting bug. She graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and eventually made it to Broadway, appearing in Kaufman and Hart’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” In between East Coast plays, she busied herself with radio work and as a photographic stylist for McCall’s, Collier’s and Ladies Home Companion.
After returning to California, the weaver and potter, who later was also an art teacher, made her own puppets and toured Southern California putting on her self-written puppet plays; eventually she also wrote a book titled “Presenting Marionettes,” still available in some libraries.
During WWII, she and her sister became riveters at Douglas Aircraft, where she was also among a group of workers who started up a theater group to boost morale.
After the war, she returned to thesping and appeared in her first film, “The Impossible Years,” in 1958. Other parts included ones in “The Sting,” “The Executioner’s Song,” “Jaws II,” “Flatliners,” “Topaz,” “A Man Called Horse” and “Somewhere in Time.”
In TV, she appeared in “Quantum Leap,” “Falcon Crest,” “L.A. Law,” “Little House on the Prairie” and the list goes on. Her last TV gig was on “Picket Fences,” when she was 85.
Over the years, she appeared in numerous plays around Southern California, including ones at San Diego’s Old Globe and L.A.’s Ahmanson and Mark Taper. Performances included “Macbeth,” “King John,” “Mornings at Seven” and more.
She was perhaps best known locally for founding Theater 40, which started out as a readers’ theater and became an Equity-waiver venue. While appearing in “Macbeth,” she even recruited its star, Charles Laughton, to become a Theater 40 member.
In her 50s, she took up scuba diving, in her 60s ballet, in her 70s raised angora rabbits for her weaving purposes and continued with scuba into her 80s.
Married and divorced twice, the AFTRA and SAG member is survived by a daughter, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Memorial services are planned for Sunday April 20 at the Rustic Canyon Recreation Center; call 310-454-5734 for details.
Donations can be made to Theater 40, P.O. Box 5401, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.