Shortly after new actress Suzanne Somers propelled the “Three’s Company” sitcom to the No. 1 spot the producers fired her — and she fled to Vegas. The bubbly blonde bombshell had asked on contract renewal to be paid commensurate to series star John Ritter. Ironically, she starred on the Strip for over seven years, earning more money than on the TV program, which was later cancelled. Now, she’s written a new book “Two’s Company” (Harmony) that tells her 50-year romance with Alan Hamel. They married 37 years ago and have never spent a night apart.
Q: You have never pulled punches with anything; and you haven’t pulled punches with this new book “Two’s Company.” What’s the most surprising thing that you reveal in this story of a 50-year romance with your husband of 37 years, whom you have never spent one night apart from?
A: I would think that people never really understood the impact of being fired on “Three’s Company,” and how we handled it. So it wasn’t so much that I was fired — crazy though it was. I mean how can you be on the No. 1 show at the top of your game with the highest demographics of any woman in television and have them, from a business standpoint, let you go? But they did it in order to send a message for all the other women in television, don’t dare think that you can be paid equal to men.
But what I thought was interesting — so, you know when you write a book or when you write a story, whatever, you don’t quite know where you’re going. You let your fingers kind of go. And, we didn’t get mad. We didn’t sue anybody. We probably could’ve — we could’ve probably got all embroiled in being angry. And, we decided … that’s when Alan took me by the shoulders and he said, “We’re gonna make this work for us.”
And, it was really Vegas that saved us. It took me about a year to lick my wounds, like what happened? How are you at the highest heights and then the next day you’re chopped down to your ankles? And, then I said to him, “I’d like to do an act.”
He made the deal with Bernie Rothkopf at the old MGM Grand. Alan went to every hotel, he went up and down the Strip looking for a two-year deal. No one would give him a two-year deal, everyone would offer him two weeks. Remember when all headliners used to do two weeks? He sat there with Bernie, and he said, “I want her to do two years because if she doesn’t succeed first time out — I know her, she will.” And, so Bernie made the two-year deal, ironically, for more money than what I was asking for on “Three’s Company.”
And, then it just was such a successful experience for us and we loved it and we never looked back, and by the time television started calling me back I reluctantly went because I was having such a good time in Vegas. So that was interesting to me.
And, then Henri Lewin called Alan, and he said, “I’ve got a bomb on my hands. I’ve got more people onstage than I’ve got in the audience. But, I think Susan — as he called me — there’s a great curiosity about her.” And, so he brought me in and put me into the Moulin Rouge at the Hilton for a year and a half, and that was a phenomenal success. You were there. That’s when we were selling out the balcony and having such a good time. And, we built a house out there. I loved my life.
I never was extremely enthusiastic about going back to television, but then it was Les Moonves who brought me back to television. He’s been a good friend, and he was head of Warner Brothers Studios at that time. He put me in two years of “She’s the Sheriff,” and then seven years of “Step by Step,” and then three years of “Candid Camera.” We remain good friends till today.
So, what I realized when looking at this is: Hey, there’s no life that’s perfect; there’s no story that’s even. There are very few people where it works out and it continues to work out. We used all the negatives as opportunities. And, also, when I was fired, we decided we would never work for anyone again. But yeah, when you’re at the Hilton you’re working, but you’re really working for yourself. It’s your show, your act, etc. And I wouldn’t want to be in that position again. It’s awful. It’s awful to be in a position where someone can decide they want to fire you for no good reason.
So, I’m glad we didn’t get mad. I’m glad we didn’t use the energy, we stayed happy and upbeat. We drink tequila. We have a lot of sex. We enjoy our home. We’re having a nice life.
Q: The book goes into detail about the physical abuse you suffered at the hands of your father. You even hid inside a locked closet to avoid his wrath. But let’s talk about the love life for a minute. How do you keep the music playing after 50 years of romance?
A: Well, I really do think, with all the books that I’ve written on hormones, etc., I really do think that the hormones have been very instrumental in keeping our juices flowing.
We put back everything that we’ve lost in the aging process and it’s kind of arrested that to some degree and kept us happy and upbeat (with) no aches or pains. And, what’s the last thing you feel like doing when you don’t feel well: having sex. But if you’re feeling good, you feel like it all the time. You’re a healthy person and a sexual person. So, he’s always been an amorous guy — crazy that way.
I’m happy to come along for the ride. I think he’s great. You know what’s great? I also realized he’s always had my back. Always. He’s the guy out in front. You’re not going to get in the door unless he lets you in the door. He’s a visionary. He sees down the road. He never gets upset when something doesn’t go right. He goes, “Eh, it’s not going to work. We’ll go over here.”
It’s like the ThighMaster. I said, “Really, the ThighMaster? Are you kidding? I just came off prime time television, the No. 1 show.” He goes, “Look. If it works, you’ll be a hero. If it doesn’t, it’ll be a secret service job and no one will even know you did it.”
And, so, we sold 10 million and counting ThighMasters. And, then he did the same thing with home shopping. I was on “Step by Step” at that time. He said, “I want you to go on home shopping.”
I said, “Oh brother, really. That’s just like the lowest of the lowlife.” No one was doing that at that time. He said, “Same thing like ThighMaster. If it works, everyone’s going to look at you like aren’t you smart.” And, it worked. I mean, I was there for 17 years and had a tremendous business. So, it’s been our business and I look at our relationships, especially in light of writing this book, as a figure eight. It never begins, it never ends.
We might wake up in the middle of the night and talk business. We do enjoy our dates and I think they’re a big part of the fun we have and a date is this: At the end of the day when I’m in my office — I’ve been writing all day — and he’s been in his office, he’ll buzz me and he’ll say, “Wanna date?”
Yeah. And, we go down to the bar at our house, which is an outdoor bar that overlooks the beautiful Palm Springs desert — and the sun going down and the twinkly lights and the palm trees. And, we put on a kind of cocktail music that if you’re at the Carlyle Hotel, over in the corner there’d be a guy playing the kind of piano that makes you want to have another cocktail and get really kind of amorous together.
So, we do that and we talk. And, that’s how we put together the act I did at the Westgate last year in Vegas. I didn’t have a writer for that show. The two of us just sat at the bar and I’d sing to him or we’d talk it down; and I’m still really proud of that show because it was so honest and I thought not having a writer kept it that way. Kept it real pure.
So, you know, life goes on. We hit a wall, you turn to the left. If it didn’t work out at that one you go to the right.
Q: Nothing seems to get you down. The entertainment setbacks, the breast cancer, the Malibu house burning down, aging and anti cancer treatment books you wrote. You lived through it all and survived.
A: I describe it in the book as I’m a shmoo. You know what a shmoo is? A shmoo is a lifesized punching bag that had a clown face on it. My brother got one for Christmas when he was a little boy. It’s got sand in the bottom. And the little boys love them because you punch it and it bounces back. And you punch it again and it bounces back again. It doesn’t matter how many times you punch it, it bounces back, bounces back. You can’t knock it down. And, I kind of saw that as a metaphor for the life that I’ve lived. You just keep getting punched down and you have to shake yourself off and get back up again and not take no for an answer and keep on keeping on. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what we’ve done. And I’m proud of us.
And, I also feel a great love affair to be written about. It’s a great love affair. You’ve known us all these years. You know it’s real. I just would rather be with him than anybody. He’s a cool guy.
I remember one time, I used to know Steve Allen, and he was on the radio. I heard him say this, and the guy said, “Well, you used to be cool.” And, Steve Allen said, “Hold it, when you’re cool, you’re always off? Were you cool? Never used to be cool.” I look at Alan the same way. He’s just a cool guy. OK, so he gave me a pot brownie on our first date, you know, but he’s just a cool guy for the stuff he does.
Q: You just left Vegas when Thighmaster took off and had returned to Hollywood for “Step by Step.”
A: Really thinking about it. I’ve never not worked. … You just have to go, “Whoops, OK, let’s go in another direction.” So, we’re still standing and we’re still happy and it’s not about that out there, the most important thing is us. And when things aren’t happening, we’re happy being together. But, there’s no perfect life.
Q: You mean the breast cancer, the drug poisoning, the Malibu house burning down?
A: Ups and downs, and his children and blending families and it’s a lot to set this up as, “this is a perfect marriage,” because there is no such thing as perfect, but it’s pretty darn near perfect. It’s as great as it gets. It’s everything I want it to be. I cherish my relationship with him. I love him, I love my family, I love my work, I love the food I get to eat, I love the food I grow. I love everything. I’m just in a really good place and I like to laugh and I like to drink a little tequila and do a little dancing.
Q: Are you like the pop version of Martha Stewart?
A: That’s an interesting analogy. I never thought about it that way. Do you think I am? Look what she did. People can think what they want, but the reality is it was Martha who made it OK to make a nice home. And what’s nicer to come home to a nice home that smells good and there’s food cooking and it’s clean and safe and quiet and calm. So, am I the pop version? Maybe. I like to click around in my high heels, but I get dirty. I grow my own food. I cook it. Yeah. Pickle things and so, I love to think of myself as pretty well-rounded. I don’t always have to be in sequins. It’s nice, though.
Q: Just before “American Graffiti,” you gave a lipstick as security because you didn’t have enough money for even the toll. You’ve gone on to write 26 books, 15 of which became New York Times best sellers. Did you ever think it would all lead to this?
A: “American Graffiti,” not in my wildest dreamy even for the tolls. … But when I look back, when I was 17 years old, I got the lead in the musical at my high school. I was Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls.” No big deal, right? But Walter Winchell heard about this performance and he came — Walter Winchell. And, after the show, he walked up on stage, he comes right to me and in his Brooklyn accent he said, “You’re going some place, sister.” And, it took my breath away. And, then I was on the front page of the San Bruno, whatever it was at that time and I thought: “What does this all mean?” And, then I got pregnant. And I received a scholarship to college because of Walter Winchell’s stamp of approval on me. But I got pregnant. And, so, at that time, you put all dreams aside because that’s that. And, life then became a series of doing what I had to do to make enough money to keep me and my baby in food, shelter and clothing.
And, so, “American Graffiti” was, originally, just happy to get the job. I never had seen it when Johnny Carson said to everyone, “We’ve all been looking for the mysterious blonde in a Thunderbird in ‘American Graffiti.’ ” I didn’t even know really what the hullabaloo was about. My only credit — that I’d given him that book of poetry — was my only credit; and I thought he put me on the show because he loved my poetry so much. Another fortunate thing.
Walter Winchell and then Johnny Carson discovering me in the commissary at NBC. And, then Johnny Carson taking a liking to me and having me on every month reading him poems and it was a comedy bit for him, but it sold books for me and I became the No. 1 best-selling book. And, then, one of those appearances … (I met) Fred Silverman, the last of the great television network programmer heads — before they had to do everything by teams and research — and he had gut instincts.
They had hired two different Chrissy Snows for two “Three’s Company” pilots. And, neither of those Chrissy Snows tested well. And as Fred tells it, he’s sitting in a meeting and they gotta fill this face and he says, “I got the girl. I see her on the “Tonight Show” all the time.”
So boom, boom, boom. All in 1973. And it started with a tube of lipstick that got me across the bridge, so I could get the job that would lead to these other things. So, what’s that about? You follow the flow in life, and I’d like to say I was so smart that I knew that I was on some kind of journey. I was just following the initial flow for the economics of it.
And, then, year two of “Three’s Company,” I got the bug. I went, “Oh.” I’m watching John Ritter, who’s so talented. And, I went, “Oh my God, comedy is musical. I’m musical. It’s set up, set up, beat.” And, that was when I launched into the character that become so iconic. I got it. I absolutely got it. And, in getting it, my star rose so high in the public’s opinion that John Ritter, who had been assigned to be the star of the show; but it was now the public was sort of — it was between the two of us. And, I was on all the magazine covers; and that created this tension on the set that I had nothing to do with because it was public opinion.
And, I think, in that negotiation. … Because if you were the producers of “Three’s Company” and the network wanted to make an example of your star, you’d fight like hell to say, “No way, I’ve worked my whole life to have this kind of success and this hit. You’re not going to upset my chemistry. You’re not going to take it away.” But my producers did not fight for me, because there was some sense that because I didn’t have the training of a John Ritter, that I wasn’t deserving of the success.
Recently, I read an article where somebody must have asked the leading question. He said, “Well, Alan Hamel overplayed his hand.” Now, if you really analyze he was saying did Alan Hamel really think that Suzanne, a female, could get paid the same as the men?” And, that was the prevailing sense that was out there at the time: “Who does she think she is?” I was portrayed as greedy. And, Alan was portrayed as Svengali, the man who ruined Suzanne Somers’ career. And, really nothing could be further from the truth. It was predestined when Alan walked in. He’s not stupid. He’s not going to walk in being macho and, “You don’t give my client this and you’re not going to get that.” You know him well enough to know he’s not like that.
But, he had received a call the night before from the parent office at ABC — from, it wasn’t the chief financial offer — it was somebody in that office who was a friend of a friend; and said, “You didn’t hear this from me. But they’re going to hang you and it’s going to be Suzanne.” Because a couple of months earlier, Laverne & Shirley had renegotiated because their contract was up. … they (Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams) went in together. They had to pay them big money and give them back end.
So, the network had decided the next big star who renegotiates, we’re going to have to take her down — a female, so that women don’t get uppity like this. But, it was twofold because when you think about it from the perspective of the producers, who had fiduciary interests this is big money for them. Those old vaudevillians who had never made this kind of money, and suddenly, in syndication, it’s millions and millions, maybe I’m being naïve, maybe it’s a billion, and they let me go. And it never made sense to me.
So, what else was going on? And, all I can think of is, “She’s not the real star of the show. John’s the star of the show. So, I can retrain another blonde person.” Which it turned out they couldn’t. So, their loss. I gained. It’s not the way I wanted it to go, but is life ever the way you want it to go? I wanted to not stay stuck and be mad. I wanted to move forward and Vegas was the first delicious thing that happened; and then the Thighmaster was so delicious. And, then things that happened in between: performing for Prince Rainier twice and and all of the wonderful things that I was remembering and writing. And, then back to “Step by Step” and having that be such a success and home shopping being such a success. And we forged a career on our own, our way.
One of the reasons I wrote this book is that people always asking us: “How do you two do it? How does it work? How does it work living with your mate or partner. How do you mix sex and love and dating and tequila and business in this figure eight that never begins and never ends?”
All those things. It’s the combination of the whole thing. We love working together, we love playing together, we love having sex together, I love the way he looks; he loves the way I look. It’s all kind of just great. And, it’s very, very respectful, and we give each other a lot of attention. He brings me amazing coffee every morning and he walks it around the bed because I don’t like it passed across the bed because then it spills and it’s hot.
And, the second cup gets walked around and he makes the greatest coffee. Then he takes care of me in the morning and I take care of him at night. So our time together is incredible and we go down to the kitchen and make amazing meals, usually things that I’ve picked from the garden. Or, we get all dressed up and go out. For my birthday this year, we got a tin of caviar. I wore my favorite black dress and my diamond earrings and we drank a tequila and then we went out to this romantic restaurant. How nice is that? You make life little celebrations.
I also included in the book just a little of where Alan came from and where I came from so that you’d understand the unlikeliness. You know, I don’t think people realized Alan’s family immigrated from Poland. His mother opened a boarding house and Alan grew up in a boarding house with 17 people and one bathroom. Seven Chinese brothers, a black Nigerian prince, a French-Canadian hooker, a cartographer, a blind trumpet player, alcoholic trumpet player and there were a couple of other characters
I came from over here with, you know, Ducky Mahoney was my dad. Great guy, really funny, but more than a bit of a drinking problem and booze made him mean. We spent more nights hiding in the closet than I care to think about.
So, sometimes, when you come from those kinds of backgrounds, you become resilient and nothing can really knock you out. Because you’ve already been through something that really was a struggle. And, I think that our backgrounds were very instrumental in us recognizing, everybody’s looking for utopia. We’ve been where it’s not so bright and we’re here where the lights are so bright and we are totally appreciative of it.
Q: But, to never spend one night alone in 37 years? How important is that in a day and age when we have so many other distractions and, quite frankly, we get a little bugged by somebody hovering around us? Or am I only speaking for myself?
A: Normally, I’d go, “I get it.” This, I don’t understand — this comfort we have with one another. I just like being with him. I have some girlfriends, but I don’t go out for lunch. I don’t hang out with girls and he doesn’t … We go out with couples that we like or singles that we like, it doesn’t matter if people are couples, but we don’t go out apart. I don’t go out at night by myself and vice versa. I don’t know why, Robin. I don’t miss it. I like it. People tell us it’s dangerous to be this close because one day … And I always think what am I supposed to do? I love being with him. What am I supposed to do? Prepare for whatever? I’d just enjoy each day. Live in the present. And that’s why what come up we do.
Q: Seems like every thing has come up roses. Anything else you’d like to happen?
A: Hopefully, I’ll get back on the Vegas stage at some point.
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