When it comes to tragic Hollywood starlets, the story of Susan Peters might just take the cake. When Peters first stepped onto the scene, people thought she was destined to become the next big thing. Nobody could have foreseen that a single disaster would derail all of her hopes and dreams. Even as Susan Peters fought for survival, her persistent misfortune led to one of the most brutal ends the entertainment industry ever saw.
Grab some tissues folks, ‘cos this story is a sure-shot tearjerker.
1. She Didn't See It Coming
Born Susan Carnahan in July, 1921, Susan Peters was the first child of Robert Carnahan and his wife Abby. She had absolutely no connection to showbiz, and lived a tranquil life with her parents and younger brother in Spokane, Washington. But this was no fairytale childhood. Before long, a family move to Portland brought Peters face to face with unspeakable tragedy.
2. She Faced Tragedy Early On
When she was only seven years old, a devastating loss blindsided little Susan: A car accident claimed her father’s life and turned her own life upside down. This sudden loss motivated yet another move, and soon, her family joined her French grandmother in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to Peters, this was where her own star would someday rise.
3. She Wanted To Make A Difference
Not long after moving to a new city, Peters met someone who changed her life forever. Considering her own tragic fate, its rather uncanny that she befriended a boy who had polio and couldn't walk. His condition upset her deeply, and she wanted to find a way to help him. This calling inspired her to pursue a singular career path. And it definitely was not acting.
4. She Found A New Ambition
Peters was a good student, but now she felt an even stronger resolve to succeed in her studies. Her friend's plight had given her a new dream: To become a doctor. Chemistry and biology were already her favorite subjects, and this worthy ambition fit her like a glove. However, she faced one salient problem: Medical school cost a pretty penny. How in the world was she ever going to afford it?
5. She Chased Her Dream
Determined to become a doctor, Susan Peters concocted a brilliant plan...Her thinking was logical; actors made good money, and if she was any good she’d be able to help her family and put herself through medical school. So, when given the option of taking a cooking course or a drama class, Peters didn't hold back—she chose drama. And then she took it one step further...
6. She Was A Bad Actress
Completely serious about pursuing medicine, she transferred to Hollywood High School in her senior year to study drama in earnest. However, to her dismay, she soon discovered something rather unsettling: Although her rationale was completely on point, her acting skills were absolutely dismal. For a while she worried about completely failing the drama course, but luckily she had one thing going for her.
7. She Was Unbelievably Beautiful
No one could deny that Peters was total stunner. Her pretty face more than made up for her less than amazing acting chops. In fact, it’s possible that her beauty won her her very first screen test. When a talent scout sat in on one of her classes and spotted her angelic face, he knew he'd found something special. Even though her teachers warned him that she was one of their worst actresses, he recognized a face made for the camera when he saw one.
Still, Peters was nowhere near as excited as he'd thought she'd be about her upcoming opportunity.
8. She Sealed her Fate
The idea of a screen test didn’t wow Peters because agents popped into Hollywood High all the time. She viewed working in the movies as just another job—a means to get by—but certainly not her life's passion. There was no glamor in it for her at that point. Still, she agreed to take the next step and signed up with an agent. This was the turning point. By signing on to become an actress—she signed her life away...literally.
9. She Was In Good Company
When Peters graduated from Hollywood High in 1939, she was in esteemed company. Her graduating class included Jason Robards, Sheila Ryan, and Dorothy Morris, all of whom would go on to have long-running careers of their own. By association one would imagine Peters would have a similar career arc, but instead, her path veered in a different direction altogether.
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10. She Got A Lucky Break
Despite her later struggles, Peters career started off on the right foot. For starters, family friend, writer Salka Viertel, introduced her to all her Hollywood connections and Peters impressed one of them in particular—George Cukor. He gave her a bit part in his film, Susan and God, starring the inimitable Joan Crawford.
And when I say bit part, I mean, she was barely in it: Peters had no lines, and she wasn't even mentioned in the credits. But despite her small role, Peters first acting gig morphed into every actor's worst nightmare.
11. She Couldn't Keep It Together
All Peters' role entailed was for her to be a part of the background in a couple of the film’s party scenes. Although she literally only had to show up, she got so nervous when she saw the camera for the first time that she fainted. Thankfully, she overcame her nerves to shoot her scenes, and walked away with an invaluable experience.
Not only did she discover a newfound passion for the films, but she also convinced Cukor that she had undeniable star power. After all, she reminded him of one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood.
12. She Had Star Power
Susan Peters reminded Cukor of Katharine Hepburn. When he looked into her striking face, he saw a younger version of the celebrated Hollywood starlet staring back at him and it took his breath away. In fact, he recognized in her Hepburn's "finishing school appearance and drive". I mean...would Hollywood really ignore someone who looked like Katharine Hepburn?
But even as she wowed her peers and mentors, there was still one person dissatisfied with Peters blossoming career.
13. She Worried Her Mother
From the sidelines, Peters mother looked on with growing skepticism. After all, Hollywood was unknown territory. No one in the family had ever had anything to do with the entertainment world, and she worried about her daughter's future. She'd always envisioned Peters in a more stable occupation—a "normal" job. And so, sensing the volatility of her situation, Peters made a stunning concession.
14. She Made A Vow
How long would you give yourself to succeed in a new role? Peters decided three years was a reasonable amount of time. If she made it as an actor in three years, she’d continue on. Otherwise, it was bye bye Hollywood, and hello secretarial school—or hopefully—medical school. Only time would tell. But when it came to Susan Peters, no one could have predicted the calamitous road ahead...
15. She Surprised Them
Nothing good ever comes easily, and Peters knew that. She continued doing every screen test that came her way, while still polishing up her acting skills. Luckily, Warner Bros noticed her hard work and rewarded her by offering her a contract. But if they thought they could control or mould Peters like some of their other actors, they were in for a perplexing surprise.
16. She Put Her Foot Down
Peters may have been young, but she was no meek mouse. Studio executives learned this when they suggested she adopt "Sharon O’Keefe" for her screen name. Peters, who was still going by her birth name—Susan Carnahan—refused unequivocally. The reason? She didn’t like the sound of it, and that was that. Of course, this wasn’t the last time she demonstrated her strong will, and sometimes, it got her into all kinds of trouble.
17. She Paid The Price
After appearing in a number of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles in several Warner Bros films, Peters got her first big break. She landed a small, but credited, role in a full-length feature film titled Santa Fe Trail. Although she did quite well, the role didn’t lead to any bigger or better opportunities. And this seemed...suspicious, or at least, a little bit strange.
This could have been a coincidence, or something else entirely: Peters' difficult reputation may have come 'round to haunt her.
18. She Rubbed Them The Wrong Way
Studio executives weren’t too happy with Peters’ stubbornness. They faced it again during press promotions of Santa Fe Trail, when Peters locked herself in her room and refused to come out for interviews because she found them "overwhelming". She admitted in later interviews that she felt sorry that she hadn’t been a "good sport" at the time.
To her dismay, it wasn't long before handfuls of golden opportunities started slipping through her fingers.
19. She Had An Embarrassing Reputation
At one point, Peter had the dubious distinction of being "one of the most screen tested girls in the Warner Bros lot". Sadly, none of the tests resulted in a promising role. She continued to get a few tiny parts in some of the bigger films, but these were too small to be of any real consequence. If it wasn’t obvious that she was being deliberately overlooked by now, one particular incident made it painfully clear...
20. She Wasn't Perfect Enough
Peters’ screen test for 1941's Sergeant York was absolutely perfect, according to Photoplay magazine. The only reason she didn’t win the role was because she was "too young". But this clearly wasn't the reason as the role eventually went to someone even younger: Joan Leslie. To add insult injury, the film, Sergeant York, went on to become a huge box office hit.
Still, when it came to Peters' bad luck, this was only the beginning.
21. She Felt The Sting Of Betrayal
Even after she officially changed her Hollywood name to Susan Peters, she still struggled to make her mark. When she performed alongside acting giant Humphrey Bogart, she held out hope for a raving review—but was terribly disappointed: Critics failed to say anything nice about our girl Susan. In fact, after her film with Bogart did diddly-squat for her career, Warner Bros dealt Peters a terrible betrayal.
22. She Almost Dodged A Bullet
You can only perform so terribly for so long, and in Susan Peters' case, her underwhelming presence caused her studio to drop her like a hot potato. Poor Peters; her three-year deadline was fast approaching and she had nothing to show for it...yet. Unbeknownst to Peters, this could have been a blessing in disguise; in fact, failure might have saved her very life.
Of course, her destiny had something else in mind, and gave her one more chance to make it big.
23. She Didn't Give Up
When one door closes, another opens. Just as Peters started questioning her life choices—another studio swooped in to save her. MGM, and director S. Sylvan Simon contacted her to play a supporting role in his upcoming movie Tish. She tested for the part and won it, and filming began in 1942. Did this mean things were finally looking up for Peters?
24. She Turned It Around
Although critics would later admit it had its merits, Tish didn't translate into a hit right off the bat. Even so, it was a definite win for Peters. The cinematographer ensured that she looked her loveliest throughout the film, and her acting was so real, she practically jumped off the screen. Now, more than ever, Peters was impossible to ignore. Still, her success wasn't her only reason to celebrate.
Tish gave her an even bigger gift: One that made her the happiest girl in the world.
25. She Fell For A Married Man
While filming, Peters met the love of her life, Richard Quine. In fact, even in the movie, he played the role of her love interest, and before either of them knew it, sparks ignited. Their chemistry was undeniable. Even though Quine was a married man, these two lovebirds threw caution to the wind and started a passionate affair.
26. She Was The Better Susan
Funnily enough, Quine's wife was also named "Susan"—showgirl Susan Paley—and they had only been married for four months before Peters entered the picture. Of course, once he clapped eyes on this new Susan, Quine was a total goner. After all, Peters was at her absolute peak, and with her striking features and alluring gaze, she undoubtedly captured his heart.
When Quine secured a divorce, Peters saw a "happily ever after" in the making. And that's exactly what she got...at least for a little while.
27. She Was The Next Big Thing
For Peter, there was no looking back after her brush with success. MGM signed a long-term contract with her and she started getting offers for better roles. The next film she signed was also opposite Quine, and it was doubly special because the two announced their engagement while working on it. It would also lead to her next big film, Random Harvest.
Finally, Susan Peters star had risen, but unbeknownst to the glowing actress, her success came with an expiration date, and the clock had already started ticking.
28. She Wowed The Critics
Peters did so well in Random Harvest that the critics were unanimous in their praise for her. She won a nomination for an Academy Award for best actress, and although she didn’t win the award, everyone agreed that Susan Peters was one to watch. It seemed like she was at the top of her game. Her critics and peers lifted her up, and the future seemed brighter than ever before.
29. She Tied The Knot
In November 1943, Peters married Quine in a private ceremony, in a church in L.A. Family, friends, and fans attended the joyous ceremony and Peters drifted down the aisle wearing her great-grandmother’s wedding dress. The couple were over the moon and deeply in love. It seemed like every girl's dream come true. And then—in a single moment—it all fell apart.
30. She Made One Crucial Mistake
When Peters and Quine headed out on a relaxing hunting trip, they never thought that it would turn into the greatest nightmare of their lives. Peters was supposedly picking up a hunting rifle for her friend when it accidentally went off and pierced her through the abdomen. The result? A bullet tore through her and damaged her spine.
31. She Went Into Shock
As Peters lay on the ground, bleeding out, she recalled feeling like she was floating in the air. As shock leaked through her system, she remembered telling herself not to panic because she wanted to stay alive. Quine rushed her to the hospital where she had to undergo emergency surgery. And although doctors managed to save Peters’ life, they couldn’t save her from a devastating diagnosis.
32. Her Life Changed Abruptly
This wasn't Peters first taste of tragedy. In 1944, she'd gone through a harrowing miscarriage, after which she hadn’t worked for a while. This hunting trip on January 1, 1945 had meant to signal a new beginning in a new year. And she had hoped to be back stronger than ever before. In a heartbreaking twist, this accident changed her life completely. The damage to her spine left her paralyzed from waist down.
Peters would have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
33. She Had Plenty To Deal With
When she first came to, Peters seemed determined to overcome her handicap and even succeeded in taking a few steps. However, a final checkup at a Los Angeles hospital ended in a disappointing relapse and they kept her for seven months before finally allowing her to go home. But sadly, her struggles didn't end there. In fact, they had only just begun.
34. She Had A Frustrating Recovery
Peters felt dismayed to find her husband, brother, and mother all unable to accept her new reality. They seemed convinced that she could start walking again if she only tried hard enough. But their attitude only made it more difficult for Peters to accept her dependence on them. Her road to recovery was long, trying, and peppered with frustration.
"I do not believe that I shall ever be able to walk...I think invalids make a terrible mistake building their lives around a hope...If you keep waiting for that miracle to happen in the future, how can you possibly adjust your life around your handicap?" Although she had the right idea and attitude, Peters' bad luck was far from over. For some reason, tragedy seemed to dog her every move.
35. She Faced Another Loss
As if things weren’t hard enough for Peters already, she had to deal with the dizzying blow of losing her beloved mother. Abby Carnahan passed in late 1945, not long after she saw her only daughter come home. She had kept a long vigil next to Peters’ bedside the entire time she’d been in hospital, and perhaps her sorrow for her daughter’s condition became too much for her to bear.
Although this tragedy devastated Peters and as bleak as her future seemed, she tried her best to keep her eyes locked on the horizon.
36. She Tried Staying Positive
Peters did everything she could to lead as normal a life as she could. She learned how to drive a hand-operated car. She even took lessons on how to fly a hand-controlled plane, though there’s no record of her getting a pilot’s license. She visited WWII veterans with handicaps thinking she could boost their morale, but found they raised her own morale by their courage.
She even continued swimming, hunting, and fishing, though of course she needed Quine’s help for those activities. All in all, she seemed to be coping with her disability quite well, but how did her husband feel about it?
37. She Was Loved
It didn’t seem that Peters and Quine were going to let her handicap get in the way of their marriage. Peters always spoke highly of Quine, claiming that she felt he loved her even more since the accident, and gushing about what a wonderful nurse he was to her. He in turn praised his wife enthusiastically, saying he found her "more beautiful than ever" and admired her "magnificent attitude".
They must have sincerely believed in their love, which is why they decided to take the next big step.
38. She Wanted A Baby
Peters had once declared that she wanted to work for a while longer and then retire and raise a large family. Both she and Quine had wanted lots of children. But after the accident, they had to face the facts: Peters wouldn't be able to have a baby. They had no choice but to turn to adoption, and in April 1946, they welcomed a ten-day-old baby boy whom they named Timothy.
True to form, Peters remained positive about the whole experience: "God always leaves you a loophole to crawl through when trouble strikes".
39. She Was A Survivor
Peters hadn’t lost the will to live. An article about her in Photoplay noted the courage in her "big wide gray eyes" and compared it to the courage shown by officers who return wounded from war. There was a resilience there, and beyond that, she had plenty of ideas. She wanted to work in radio, and even wrote a series of articles on her Hollywood friends for Photoplay.
Most of all, she wanted to get back to work. Unfortunately, she had no idea just how difficult that would be.
40. She Was Shot Down
Peters had some great ideas for films that would allow her to shine. She pitched the idea of starring in a biopic about Connee Boswell, a singer who’d also been paralyzed from the waist down after an accident, or a film based on a bedridden journalist, Nellie Revel. But to her dismay, her studio brutally turned her down; they just weren't willing to give her ideas a chance.
41. She Broke Up With Them
Peters was unhappy with the kind of scripts MGM was sending her way. She absolutely despised the "Pollyanna scripts about crippled girls who were all sweetness and light" because she knew in her heart that there were better roles out there. Fiercely stubborn as always, she broke her contract. With determination in hand, she turned to Columbia pictures.
42. She Returned To The Big Screen
This time, when Peters made her pitch, the studio listened. She wanted to act in an adaptation of The Sign of the Ram, a novel about a disabled woman who uses her handicap to manipulate the people in her life. This was exactly the kind of emotional range she wanted to steep herself in—a challenge certain to showcase her acting talent.
Peters was extremely optimistic about the movie's reception. But unfortunately, nothing went as planned.
43. She Veered Off Course
Sadly, The Sign of the Ram was a disappointment at the box office, and received bad reviews from the critics at large. They didn’t fault Peters’ performance, but felt she deserved a better comeback than this. But if you think that Peter's run of tragedy and missteps was coming to well-deserved end, think again. Just as her professional career veered off course, so did her personal life.
44. She Had Trouble In Paradise
Remember the little boy Peters and Quine had adopted? Well, when Peters threw herself into her onscreen comeback, all of the parenting duties fell to Quine. Only problem was—it seemed like he wasn’t okay with this new development. Still, on the surface, this famed couple put on a happy face, which is why their eventual disintegration came as such a shock to the public.
45. She Was Alone
Although neither of them had given the world an inkling that there was trouble in Paradise, Peters and Quine separated from each other in 1948, just after The Sign of the Ram’s production wrapped up. Peters made claims nobody had ever suspected: She spouted that Quine mistreated her—that he was cruel and sometimes wouldn't speak to her for days on end.
46. She Was Unlucky In Love
Peters never said more on the sensitive subject, and neither did Quine. The divorce became final in September 1948, with Peters getting custody of little Timothy, and receiving $300/month in child support. It would be a solid three years before she entertained another romance, and even then, she was only destined for heartache.
47. She Met Someone New
In 1951, Peters scored a part on a television show, but as a result of her faltering health, the show was cancelled after just one season. Still, she managed to find a silver lining in the person of Robert Clark, a US Army Colonel, and the couple announced their engagement soon after they met. Unfortunately, Peters’ luck was well and truly out.
48. She Fell Into A Deep Depression
At the drop of a hat, the Colonel called off the engagement and disappeared, his desertion sending Peters into a spiralling depression. It seemed like life was finally succeeding in breaking Peters’ spirit. Resigned to her fragile state, Peters stepped away from her career and decided to get some much needed rest. But sadly, Peters knew in her heart that she'd never make a full recovery.
49. She Didn't Listen To her Body
Peters moved to Lemon Cove, California, to her brother’s cattle ranch. Doctors had previously advised her to work one month a year, and she’d ignored their advice—performing on stage and television, and pushing her limits every chance she got. It seemed like all that reckless neglect of her own health was finally catching up with her, and she was about to pay the price.
50. Her Health Deteriorated
Peters had always been slender and petite, and after her hunting accident, doctors recorded Peters’ weight at only 80 pounds. Her relationship with food had also been rather unhealthy, and she’d admitted that she’d give up eating whenever Quine tormented her with the silent treatment. But it didn't get any better. After she moved in with her brother, she started eating even less.
In fact, it seemed like she was a completely different person from the woman who’d struggled to live—who'd maintained a firm grasp on hope and willed herself to carry on. Where was she now?
51. She Lost The Will To Live
In her last visit to the doctor, Peters told him that she felt it would be best for everyone if she was no more. Over the course of the next two months, Peters had a brand new resolution and it was utterly horrifying: she began starving herself. Finally, in October, 1952, Susan Peters passed. Although the cause of her passing was a "chronic kidney infection," the doctor admitted she’d hastened her end by starvation and dehydration.
The woman had clearly lost the desire to live.
52. She Had A Sad Ending
Only Peters’ brother and his wife had been with her at the time of her passing. They laid her to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, which is where her mom was also buried. She was only 31 years old. It is overwhelmingly sad to imagine how one accident destroyed Peters, the embodiment of so much promise and potential.
53. Her Husband Met A Shocking End
Thankfully, Peters' son didn't witness his mother's harrowing passing. But unfortunately, he'd grow to endure another tragedy. In fact, he lost his other parent as well. In June, 1989, after a long battle with depression, Richard Quine—once the love of Peters' life—passed tragically by a self-inflicted shot to the head.