Monday, October 24, 2011
Suzan Ball (War Arrow, 1952)
War Arrow, directed by George Sherman (now there is a name fit for a western specialist!), is typical of the B+ fare manufactured, sausage-style, by Universal-International in the early to mid 1950s with a host of contract players that here includes Jeff Chandler, Dennis Weaver, Charles Drake, Brad Jackson and Lance Fuller. And the studio's tragedy girl, Suzan Ball, whose dark-haired beauty lent itself well to play exotics like the Seminole Indian maiden in Arrow. That Dennis Weaver is cast opposite her as an Indian brave is another matter altogether. Not that Universal cared two hoots about realism; Suzan wears very non-native eye shadow and sports the typical pointy brassiere that was in style in the 1950s but perhaps not too widely used in the wild and woolly west of the 19th century. She was, however, convincing enough in her role as a Native American spitfire that director Sherman insisted on casting her again in Chief Crazy Horse (1955). By then, of course, she was suffering from the cancer that would kill her later that year.
Suzan Ball (b. Jamestown, NY, 1934) became one of Hollywood's most tragic starlets, dying at the ridiculous young age of 21. A distant cousin of Lucille Ball, Suzan had been a band singer and was rooming in a boarding house on La Brea when fellow boarder Mary Castle recommended her to Universal. She made her screen debut as, what else? a handmaiden in Aladdin and His Lamp (1952) for Monogram, and then did her first Universal Western, Untamed Frontier (1952), with Shelley Winters. Then came City Beneath the Sea (1953), where she met and fell head over heels for the womanizing Anthony Quinn, reportedly the love of her life. She was exotic again in East of Sumatra (1953) but injured her leg performing a native dance. She injured the same leg twice more, in a car accident and slipping and falling in her home and the wound refused to heal. In fact, during the filming of War Arrow she was informed by doctors that she had developed tumors in her leg. By then she was dating fellow Universal contract player Richard Long, a serious relationship that ended in marriage in April of 1954. The nuptials, alas, were postponed while doctors amputated the cancerous leg. Sadly, the cancer had already spread and she was dying. Never one to back down in a fight, though, Suzan insisted on business as usual and to Universal's dismay, her friend George Sherman refused to replace her in Crazy Horse, her final film. According to legend, her last days were extremely difficult on her husband, especially when her final whispered word was “Tony.” Meaning Anthony Quinn. Suzan Ball succumbed to cancer on August 5, 1955.