REMEMBERING SUZIE KAYE

In 2002 I interviewed 60s starlet (and West Side Story alumni) Suzie Kaye  for my book Drive-in Dream Girls. She was so delightful to speak with. I recently read the new book Our Story: Jets & Sharks Then and Now. I bought it in anticipation in reading Suzie Kaye’s chapter. I was disappointed to learn that she did not contribute and then was stunned to see her name on the “In Memory” page. I then learned from her friend actress BarBara Luna that Suzie had (unbeknownst to me) passed away in 2008.

Either as a sultry brunette or dippy blonde, Suzie Kaye was a talented actress/singer/dancer who made her mark in ‘60s drive-in movies. The petite Kaye, a veteran of many stage productions while growing up in New York City, made her film debut as Rosalia, a Shark girl, in the Academy Award-winning musical West Side Story (1961). She recalled in Drive-in Dream Girls, “Natalie Wood was fine to work with but a little distant. I think she was fearful and a bit uncomfortable being around all these New York dancers. I never had any run-ins with her. Off the set we were gangs through and through. We even played cards separately. We didn’t mix because a lot of us were Method Actors—I know I was.  We just stayed in character most of the time because it made it easier.” She is in the tight striped dress in the “America” number below.

As a brunette she went on to play small roles in a few more films including Tammy and the Doctor (1963) with Sandra Dee and the beach-party-in-the-snow Wild Wild Winter (1966) with Gary Clarke and Chris Noel.  Feeling her career needed a boost, Kaye dyed her hair blonde. This seemed to suit her perky personality better, as she went on to work in a string of teenage comedies and musicals including Clambake (1967) with Elvis Presley; It’s a Bikini World (1967) with Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley; and C’mon, Let’s Live a Little (1967) with Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon. Kaye is the cute blonde in teh gold lame bikini in the below clip.

After smaller roles in the biker flick The Angry Breed (1968) and the comedy The Comic (1969), Kaye was cast as Angel Chernak, one of the early Seventies most memorable daytime vixens, on Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. “Angel Chernak was an absolute villainess until she got cancer and then atoned,” remarked Suzie in Drive-in Dream Girls. After a four year run, the soap was cancelled in 1973 and Kaye retired from acting to concentrate on a career in business.

 

 

Comments: 19

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  • John Black

    I’m very sorry to learn of her passing.

    Not to nitpick, but I don’t consider THE ANGRY BREED to be a biker flick. It’s really a light exploitation film about Hollywood bottom-feeders, and I wish it was available on commercial home video. There are boots floating around, some more complete than others. It’s kind of an odd duck, with practically no nudity at all (at least in the prints that I have seen).

     
     
     
    • Fair enough. Yes, I agree less a biker film (though James MacArthur is a leader of tough low-life motorcylce gang) and more a look at the Hollywood set. An odd duck indeed with an off-beat cast – Murray MacLeod, Melody Patterson, Lori Martin, Jan Murray, William Windom, and Jan Sterling.

       
  • Elephant's Memory

    I remember “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing” well, and I can tell you that except perhaps at the very beginning Suzie Kaye (Stone)’s character Angel Allison was not a villainess. At first she was used by an obsessed doctor to seduce Mark Elliott (David Birney) so that Mark would not reconcile with his wife Laura (Donna Mills), whom the doctor was obsessed with. After this brief affair, however, Angel met and fell in love with Dr. Pete Chernak (first Paul Michael Glaser, later Michael Zaslow and Vincent Baggetta) and they were married. From here on in Angel was a good character that everybody liked, though her marriage was briefly broken up by the same vixen, Jean Garrison (Jane Manning), who had earlier broken up Mark and Laura. Just before the series ended, Angel was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and that was left unresolved at the last show.

     
     
     
    • Thanks for the clarification. I love soap history. However it was Suzie herself who called her character a villainess during our interview and said Angel attoned once she got Cancer.

       
      • Honestly, though, frequently viewers remember plotlines better than the people performing the roles do, probably because the story is more “real” to viewers than to actors. Anyway, when it comes to ’60s and ’70s TV, and soaps, and other things, my username is pretty accurate.

        So sorry to hear about Suzie’s passing.

         
        • I believe that Suzie described the character just as the blog author stated, but you’re right, Elephant’s Memory. There’s no way that Angel was considered a villainess by any fan of the soap. Jean was a villainess, So was Julie Richards (late wonderful Beverlee McKinsey), Even little Judy Safran was a villainess, playing the demonic foster child Maria, who locked Mark in the garage and set it on fire. But not Angel Allison Chernak. Angel’s story was somewhat resolved . In the last episodes the point was made that treatments no longer worked, and Angel was terminal. This is what finally prompted fiercely independent Betsy (Andrea Marcovicci) to marry Joe. I wrote to Ann Marcus, LIAMST’s headwriter, about 10 years ago. In her response, Ann wrote that had LIAMST not been cancelled, Angel would’ve died onscreen and not been saved by some miracle. BTW, there’s a clip from the soap with Suzie on YT. No sound unfortunately, but at the 2:45 mark is the scene where Angel tells Betsy that she’s going to die.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v4PvfmyOWA

           
          • Thanks for sharing. I never saw Suzie in Love Is a Many Splendored Thing so loved watching the clip. It was a direct quote from Suzie herself that Angel was a “villainess.” Perhaps, based on Angel’s actions, Suzie thought she was a bad girl the audience hated. I have never seen the show so cannot comment, but based on what the fans have been saying Suzie may have made her more sympatheticly than she realized.

             
  • Tony

    Here’s the kicker..I just finished watching some of a Bikini-world to the credits,and I kept saying to myself “what a cutie” about the chracter pebbles. I waited for the credits,and got the name. I look it up,and sad to say found out she passed. Of course I was only 2 or so when the above mentioned movie was released,but her kind of beauty,and sweetness transcends time. God rest your soul ms. Kaye. Peace.

     
     
     
    • I never met Suzie but talked with her on the phone. She was very nice and direct. Wonderful talented lady. Tom

       
  • I noticed Suzie in bikini world too. Felt she was short changed during the groovy sixties in which lll always love. I always loved Debbie walley too. Words can’t describe how much lll miss both of them. And just think l am a black man who simply lives and dreams of a different world when l see those old beach movies. I still do. I wish l could close my eyes,open them and Suzie and Debbie would be there smiling looking at me…just for a second. I would hug them both and say thanks for everything. Then they could return to heaven. I really mean that. Michael.

     
     
     
    • Suzie was very nice and outspoken when I interviewed her. Was sorry to hear of her passing.

       
  • Sixties – funny, there is very little mention on the web about how Suzie Kaye passed away.

    In the book, “Drive-in Dream Girls: A Galaxy of B-Movie Starlets of the Sixties” By Tom Lisanti – Published January 1, 2003, Suzie Kaye (Stone) quoted as being sober from a 10 year addiction to alcohol and drugs for 21 years and that her sobriety gave her a stronger appreciation and depth for living life.

    Do you know what led to her death in 2008 (presumably with 26 years of sobriety)?

     
     
     
    • Sorry I do not. I was shocked like everyone else to find out few years later from that book about making West Side Story. Actress BarBara Luna confirmed for me that Suzie had passed away but did not say what was the cause.

       
  • Earline

    Hi, I’ve made it a hobby of going backlooking up Actresses and Actors who were around three, four, five or more decades back. It is needless to say that most of those people are gone. So many passed away under seventy years old. So many succumbed to illness, booze, drugs, accidents, and suicide. I first saw Suzie on “It’s A Bikini World” and later saw her in “Clambake”. “Wild, Wild, Winter” was one of the “Winter Set Beach Flims” that I had seen years afterwards the “Beach Genre” was over. It has taken me years to catch up with all of them. I think “Wild, Wild, Winter” was the first “Beach Film” I had ever seen. Then it disappeared for years, not to be seen again until “Video and Cable” became a part of the movie lovers lives. I was always curious about Suzie, but I couldn’t ever find out anything about her. I think it was last year when I finally found out she had passed away. I’ve only been looking up celebrities since probably 2009. That was after she had passed away. I think it was the “Wild, Wild, Winter” movie that prompted my curiosity. As far as “Love Is A Many Splendid Thing” and “Tammy And The Doctor”, I never saw those. She seemed as if she was having a good time in “Clambake”. I wonder did dyeing her hair contribute to the roles she got after “Wild, Wild, Winter”? What did she do after acting? Or did she go to the stage. Some Actors don’t disappear. They simply go to another media, and wind up being overlooked, unless they do something really critically fantastic. But just like so many others before, during, and after Suzie, we her adoring fans, may never find out what happened to her or them. I hope someone set a ” Find-A-Grave” Memorial for Suzie so that her fans will have someplace to go to to say Goodbye.

     
     
     
    • I interviewed Suzie for my Drive-in Dream Girls book so you can find more about her there. She had a substance abuse, which she licked, and then owned a compute supply business with her ex-husband.

       
  • Gene Klein

    I was at UCLA in 1961, when I joined he cast of “Family Affair” with Suzie, and John Gabriel as the leads. She was a wonderful singer/dancer/actress, and a very friendly person. I remember her with great affection, and admiration. As an aside, I’ve learned that her whole name was Susan Helene Klein. My sister’s name was Helene Klein. I was stunned, but happy at the connection.

     
     
     
    • Thank you for sharing. I never met her but we just spoke on the phone and she was a fun interview.

       
  • […] Kaye (1941 – 2008) in a publicity photo for Wild Wild Winter (1966). Tom Lisanti: “Either as a sultry brunette or dippy blonde, Suzie Kaye was a talented actress/singer/dancer […]

     
     
     
  • karen

    Karen. would like to possibly get more info
    regarding her. any. would be greatly appreciated.

     
     
     
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