Though best known for portraying rather ditzy blondes in television series such as Three's Company and Step by Step, there is much more to Suzanne Somers than meets the eye. In addition to acting, Somers has found success as an author, poet, entrepreneur, spokeswoman, nightclub performer and talkshow hostess. The daughter of a secretary and high school athletic coach, Somers briefly attended a private Catholic School until she was expelled for passing notes to her friends. Following graduation from public school, Somers attended Lone Mountain College in San Francisco. Marrying and divorcing early, Somers had a child to support, so she sought out modelling and acting work, with a few stints as a cocktail waitress. TV bit roles and fleeting appearances in such San Francisco-based films as Bullitt (1968) led to a decorative girl-friday job on a TV game show hosted by Alan Hamel, whom she eventually married. Always just on the brink of stardom, Somers took whatever job came along, gaining a measure of attention as the mysterious "blonde in the car" in the 1973 film American Graffiti (a role later expanded for the film's reissue after Somers became famous). One audition struck gold in 1977 when Somers was cast as the dumbest of dumb blondes Chrissy on the ABC sitcom Three's Company where Somers scored a hit with viewers. This being the Fonzie/Farrah Fawcett Majors era of TV idolatry, Somers was suddenly catapulted into sex-symbol status, with one of her "pin-up" photos selling 500,000 copies. This sudden fame led Somers to insist upon a salary raise - but the producers weren't prepared to pay $100,000 weekly for an actress previously receiving $30,000, nor did they want to give her a percentage of profits. Somers tried to break her contract, but was held to it by the producers, who forced her into what was virtually an extra role, limiting her weekly appearance to one minute, physically separated from her co-stars. Somers was off the show by 1980, and up until 1986 rarely appeared on television. Instead, Somers found success headlining a Las Vegas show where she pulled down $100,000 for each performance. The comeback began with a 1986 syndicated situation comedy, She's the Sheriff, which lasted two years. In the '90s, Somers began marketing exercise equipment products such as the Thighmaster and Buttmaster, via television infomercials. The products' success have made Somers a millionaire...again. She was the mom on the long-lived ABC sitcom Step By Step throughout the 1990s, also appearing in Serial Mom and No Laughing Matter. As the new century began she became a fitness guru by writing multiple books about aging, appearing in the 2009 documentary How to Live Forever in that capacity.
photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
by Hal Erickson biography