Susan Johnson, who played the coquettish big-voiced maid in Broadway’s 1956 production of “The Most Happy Fella,” died Feb. 24 in Carmichael, Calif., where she had retired to in 2001. She was 75 and suffered from emphysema and congestive heart failure.
Columbus, Ohio, native, born Marilyn Jean Johnson, attended Ohio State U. and got her break when she joined the chorus in the original Broadway production of “Brigadoon” as Meg Brockie in 1948 when she was 20. She repeated that role in a City Center revival in 1950 and on the studio cast recording. Other Broadway roles include: “Buttrio Square” (1952), “Carnival of Flanders” (1953), “Carefree Heart” (1957), “Oh, Captain!” (1958), “Whoop-Up” (1958) and “Donnybrook!” (1961).
While touring in summer stock during 1963, she fractured her skull in a serious traffic accident. She never returned to Broadway but did play regional theater after her recovery. Some of her repertoire can be heard in the recently released Harbinger CD “Legendary Performers: Susan Johnson” and the “Brigadoon” and “Most Happy Fella” CD re-releases.
She won a Theater World Award for her performance in “Fella” and made numerous appearances on Ed Sullivan’s TV shows, where she performed “Big D” from “Fella.”
In 1965 she married her third husband, Chet Kehn, Jr., an ex-Brooklyn Dodger, and moved to San Diego. In 1984 after her husband’s death she returned to the theater performing in Honolulu for a production of “Annie” where she was cast in the role of Miss Hannegan. In 1988 she made an appearance in the Long Beach Civic Opera’s production of “Follies,” where she performed “Who’s That Woman,” and had a role in the 1992 film “Sister Act” as well as its sequel.
She also became active in Sacramento theater, including the mother roles in local productions of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “Barefoot in the Park” as well as “Ladies at the Alamo.” She additionally performed in AIDS benefits and for S.T.A.G.E. She retired in 2001.
Remembered by friends as “larger than life” and “an hilarious firebrand” with “a mouth like a sailor, but in a wonderful way,” she is survived by daughter Corianne Dann and three granddaughters.
The family plans a memorial service for July 6 in San Diego. For more info, contact (702) 845-2289.