Exotically beautiful Suzanne Kaaren is probably best known for her co-starring roles with Bela Lugosi in “The Devil Bat” and with the 3 Stooges in some of their funniest shorts. But Miss Kaaren appeared in a couple of westerns—one with Tim McCoy and the other with Johnny Mack Brown.
“I also knew Dale Evans before she married Roy. We’d go to a place in Santa Monica where she sang. We’d have dinner with friends and have a good time of it.”
As for her first western leading man, Johnny Mack Brown, “I became friends with Johnny. We’d go to Will Rogers’ Uplifters Club. They’d play polo and I awarded the cup to the winning team. Big Boy Williams also played as did producer, Walter Wanger. I even played, though not very well (Laughs). I loved horses, I liked to wear boots. I even wore them in Central Park when we moved back to New York—the boots I wore in ‘Undercover Man’.”
“Johnny Mack was a great man, a fun person. He taught me what to do when horses get out of hand, and how to get off when they do get out of hand! In the film, I got up on his horse and it started to run real fast! I looked up and was about to run right into the chow wagon. Well, I jumped off that horse and bruised my chest for weeks! It really hurt, so Johnny Mack told me how to roll off—to roll with the force and not get hurt. I experienced it later—visiting a friend in the valley. He had several spirited horses. There was a walnut grove—I got on this horse, loosened the grip, and he shot off like a bat out of hell, heading straight for those walnut trees! Remembering what Johnny Mack had told me, I rolled. My wristwatch was ten feet away and broken; my earrings were scattered, but I wasn’t hurt at all!”
“Incidentally, I did all my own stunts in ‘Undercover Man’; climbing out of that stagecoach onto the driver’s side—everything! I am very athletic. I won the world title interscholastic high jumping championship. I was a left-handed scissors jumper.”
“Johnny Mack Brown and I became lifelong friends. He later visited us in North Carolina. He was promoting a movie and heard I lived in Salisbury, NC (with her husband, Sidney Blackmer). He loved to dance—we danced together at director Frank Borzage’s when Johnny Mack’s wife was pregnant with her second child. Irene, Johnny’s wife, and I had a great deal in common—we are no nonsense type of people. I was called the ‘look, don’t touch girl.’ I was not looking for romance.”
As to Tim McCoy in Suzanne’s second western, “Phantom Ranger”—“He was wonderful. I was a debutante in Mexico; there were counterfeiters and I danced. It was a good part. Tim personally selected me for the film. There were some 200 girls up for the part! Tim loved the way I rode horses. It was a nice association. I also got to sit on Tim’s lap—just like I did Johnny Mack’s.”
Suzanne also appeared, in a smaller role, in “Mexicali Rose” with Gene Autry. “Oh, that was funny. It was only a couple of days work, but Gene found out I blush easily. There were two blondes; we arrive and have a scene where we talk while eating. Autry, the director, the cameraman, all of them planned this joke. I was to be eating an avocado salad. Instead of that, they placed a woman’s brassiere—with falsies—on my plate for me to pretend to be eating! I had to keep talking, as if everything was okay! It was a big joke. (Laughs)”
“Another cowboy I met, but didn’t work with, was John Wayne. I was in some little club down in Mexico with a group of people—and Wayne, who could drink with the best of them—came up and stated he wanted to dance with me. A Mexican general I was with told him, ‘No.’ A big fight ensued, and the police came and took Duke away!”
Reflecting on her actor-husband, the distinguished Sidney Blackmer, Suzanne is quick to say, “It wasn’t love at first sight—at least not with me. I originally met him at a going-away party. He grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. I needed to leave for another cocktail party at Malibu Beach. Sidney said, ‘Please, may I have your phone number.’ I was shocked—I didn’t believe in giving my number out to a stranger, so I said ‘No’. Writer Garrett Fort (“Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “Mark of Zorro”) was in my party, and Sidney even asked Garrett—but I told Garrett to not give it out. He was very persistent, and eventually threw a party with his Chinese chef doing the cooking. Garrett was invited, and Sidney asked Garrett to bring me. I was a career girl and held my ground for some time, but Sidney eventually won me over. At the time, I had never seen him in a picture. I didn’t go to movies much, until we started dating. Then we went all the time. He was a star, and a brilliant actor. Franchot Tone and others would ask his advice about things when they were on the stage. He studied technique and was someone you could learn a lot from. Such a dear man, when he was courting me, he’d walk my dog.”
Regarding Suzanne’s entrance into films, “I had been in ‘Americana’ at the Schubert Theater on Broadway. From there I was one of the original Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. I appeared in a short to be shown on experimental TV. Someone at Warners saw it, and I was eventually offered a contract. Since it was for less money than I was earning, I turned it down. Later, I was offered screen tests at Universal and Fox. A flip of the coin and I signed with Fox. I later did ‘Chicken Every Sunday’ on Broadway with Sidney. I still have the large poster that stood outside the theater.”
“Besides Fox, I was under contract to MGM. My favorite part is the first 30 minutes of ‘The Great Ziegfeld.’ It’s mostly me. What a prestigious picture! Frank Morgan, famous for his stuttering delivery, told me, ‘I was half asleep and didn’t remember my lines, so I did that stuttering. That’s how that started!’ My last picture at MGM was to be ‘Meet Me In St. Louis’. I was to play the girl next door, but I wanted to go back to New York with Sidney, so I asked for my release. I’m also proud of a Technicolor short I did at Warners, ‘Louisiana Purchase’ directed by Crane Wilbur. I played Josephine! I had a nice part as a Russian in ‘Trade Winds’. Fredric March was on the prowl for me. His trailer was on the set, and he told me his toilet seat was made of gold! He did that to get me in there. I told Fredric, ‘For God’s sake, are you on the make for me?’ (Laughs)”
As for her cult favorite leading man, Bela Lugosi, “What a gentleman. He always kissed my hand goodnight. He took the film (“Devil Bat”) very seriously. What a distinguished man. Remember in the movie, when he gives the aftershave lotion to his next victim, they’d say ‘Goodnight’ and Bela would say ‘Goodbye.’ Every night, as we were leaving the studio, we’d tell Bela ‘Goodnight,’ and he’d always tell us ‘Goodbye!’ (Laughs)”
Suzanne also appeared with the Three Stooges. “What fun! ‘Disorder in the Court’ is the biggest moneymaker of all the Stooge comedies. I only did it as a lark—I had a little time when Jules White saw me dancing and said, ‘With those legs, you’ve gotta do it.’ My favorite is ‘What’s The Matador?’ I played a Spanish girl—with a very jealous husband. I had a Stooge under my bed, in the closet. It was a lot of fun. I went to the Stooge Convention in ‘91.”
Suzanne revealed to us when her husband was dying of cancer in ‘73, a crook stole all their money. “So, I went back to work—did a lot of extra parts, and then got a good role in ‘Cotton Club’ with Richard Gere. He played a gigolo and I was a wealthy woman who hired him. But almost all of it was cut. Gere didn’t want anybody’s part upstaging his! There was a lot of pot smoking going on…even a real murder happened on that film. They pumped smoke into the nightclub scene to make it look like cigarette smoke, and everybody got red eyes. At least some of my part remains in the film.”
Born Suzanne Kaaren (her real name) March 21, 1912, in Brooklyn, NY, (“I am an Aries and a Pisces mixed up”) she lived later in life in an apartment that overlooked Central Park. “Donald Trump is my landlord! He tried to tear down the building, but the city refused because it’s now considered a landmark!”
At 92, Suzanne died from complications of pneumonia at the Lillian Booth Home of the Actor’s Fund in Englewood, NJ, on August 27, 2004.
Suzanne’s Western Filmography
Movies: Undercover Man (‘36 Supreme)—Johnny Mack Brown; Phantom Ranger (‘38 Monogram)—Tim McCoy; Mexicali Rose (‘39 Republic)—Gene Autry.