- By TOM WEAVER
Susan Cabot was born in Boston and raised in a series of
eight foster homes. She attended high school in Manhattan,
where she took an interest in dramatics and joined the school
dramatic club. Later, while trying to decide between a career
in music or art, she illustrated children's books during
the day and sang at Manhattan's Village Barn at night. It
was at this same time that she made her film debut as an
extra in Fox's New York-made Kiss
of Death (1947) and worked in New York-based
television. Cabot soon found herself signed to an exclusive
contract with Universal, but later asked to be released
from the pact when the sameness of her roles in various
westerns and Arabian Nights films became more than she could
bear. After a brief stint on Broadway, she was once more
lured to Hollywood by producer Roger Corman, and set about
making the films for which she is best remembered today.
TOM WEAVER: How did working
in these Roger Corman films compare to working at Universal?
SUSAN CABOT: "Totally mad. It was like a European
movie -- I mean, we'd have some sort of a script, but there
was a lot of, 'Who's going to say what?' and 'How 'bout
I do this?' -- plenty of ad-libbing and improvising. But
Roger was really great in a way; he was very loose. If something
didn't work out, he changed it [snap of the fingers], right
away. He gave me a lot of freedom, and also a chance to
play parts that Universal would never have given me. Oddball,
wacko parts, like the very disturbed girl in Sorority Girl (1957)
and things like that. I had a chance to do moments and scenes
that I didn't get before.
"Although Roger was -- I suppose still is -- some
kind of maverick, he's very bright and fast-thinking. He
treated a lot of us shabbily in ways, and I'm sure we were
asked to do things above and beyond what a major studio
might have asked. But we all wanted the pictures to work,
so we just pressed on."
Q: Did you enjoy playing villainous
roles in Viking Women and the Sea Serpent, Sorority Girl
and Machine-Gun Kelly?
SUSAN: "I loved it from the standpoint of their
being a challenge, but it was very hard for me to play an
unfeeling character -- to do or say something cruel to another
person, not feeling it in my bones or in my heart, and know
that that other person is suffering. I've been victimized
by people like that, and it hurts."
did you enjoy working with the Corman stock company?
SUSAN: "I enjoyed our group -- I think we had
a super bunch, good talents. Barboura Morris was a lovely
actress, a very sweet lady and a nice friend -- but she
always seemed very sad to me. I'm sorry she's gone. Dick
Miller was a nice guy, very cooperative; Richard Devon,
an excellent actor; I loved Ed Nelson. Everybody worked
hard, we worked spontaneously, we interplayed with each
other -- we had a real good group."
Corman had bit parts in Machine-Gun
Kelly and The Wasp Woman.
Did you get to know him well?
SUSAN: "Gene was a lovely person and a fine
man, and I respect his work. I liked Gene very much; he
seemed the antithesis of Roger. Gene was a very low-key,
gentle man; Roger seemed a driven man. Roger wanted to accomplish
a lot, he had to have a lot of drive to do it, and he pushed
through. He not only pushed through, he punched through!
With a lot of energy -- and a lot of disregard, at times."
you and Roger date?
SUSAN: "We had a few dinners, yes. And argued
about the treatment of our fellow actors. Having a social
conscience -- me, that is, I don't know about Roger -- and
being, I think, the only one he had signed under personal
contract, I felt like a mother hen, and thought perhaps
I could influence him to take it easy on the actors. Everybody
wanted to please him, to make the pictures a success --
but when he'd disregard somebody's safety I'd get real mad.
And so we would argue a lot about that."
would his comeback be?
SUSAN: "'Oh, don't be so sensitive. We're just
making a movie, don't take it so seriously.' Things like
that. But I have to say one thing about Roger: When Sandy
Meisner, who is a very respected acting teacher, came out
here, many years ago, Roger began to go to his classes to
learn how actors act and think and how they work things
out. So I had to hand it to him -- he was really trying
to improve himself and develop, and see things from the
actor's point of view. When a director does that, he becomes
a better director."
can you tell us about The
SUSAN: "That was a lot of fun and a real challenge.
In that film I played Janice Starlin, a character who, through
injections of wasp enzymes, goes from a woman of forty to
a woman of twenty-two. I had to play two roles differently.
Older people usually move and speak more slowly, and I just
used a slower pace, a more considered way of thinking for
the 'old' Janice. Acting spontaneously, full of life, doing
things off-the-top -- that was how I played the 'young'
Janice. Since I'm small -- I'm 5'2" -- another challenge
was figuring out a way to attack 6'4" men and make
it look credible. The only way I felt I could convincingly
down a bigger person was through swiftness -- by coming
at them so fast, like a bolt of lightning, and staying right
on target. It worked."
you did all of your own stunts in the film?
SUSAN: Every bit of running, jumping, tackling,
fighting and falling you see in that film, I did myself.
One thing I remember in particular was that, as I attacked
each character, I was supposed to bite their necks and draw
blood. As I pierced the neck, to get the drama of the moment
Roger wanted to see the blood. And so as I attacked everybody,
I had Hershey's chocolate in my mouth -- which I proceeded
to blurp, right on people's necks. What we did for Roger
Corman -- I mean, things that you could never do in a real
studio but you did for this guy. Everything seemed unreal
best scene as The Wasp Woman
came at the very end of the film.
SUSAN: "Well, after I'd done all those ghastly
things I had to get my lumps at the end, right? That's a
story in itself: The whole finale was going to be done in
one shot -- one shot! -- and if anybody goofed, it stayed
goofed. The hero would burst into the lab where I was lurking,
and the fight would begin. We'd battle with a stool, back
and forth, then somebody would throw a bottle of 'acid'
at me. After the bottle hit, I was supposed to duck out
of camera range for just a few seconds while the prop man
put liquid smoke on my antennae -- the smoke showed the
effects of the 'acid.' Then I had to go out through a window
backwards. We started shooting the scene --Anthony Eisley
discovers me in the lab, the fight begins, the stool, everything.
Then they threw the bottle -- which was supposed to be a
breakaway bottle. Well, things started happening at that
moment. Somebody had filled the bloody thing with water,
and it hit like a rock. I thought my lower teeth came up
through my nose. When you saw me hiding my face in that
shot, it was because I was hurt very badly. But I continued
to go through the scene! Out of camera range, the prop man
put the liquid smoke on my antennae -- too much liquid smoke!
I went crashing backwards out the window, and two men caught
me on the other side. I started choking on the liquid smoke,
but I couldn't tell them! The mask did not have a mouth
-- it only had two little nostrils and two globular eyes,
and it was glued very tightly all around my neck. The smoke
was going in the nostrils, and there was no place for it
to go out. I was clawing and scratching but I couldn't talk!
At last somebody got the message and poured water on me.
I had to tear part of the mask off in order to breathe,
and when I did I tore away some of my own skin. That left
a big purple bruise on my neck for a very long time. Did
Roger do anything? Did Roger send me flowers? What year
is it now?"
made you decide to quit Hollywood after 1959?
SUSAN: "I felt that I had more within me to
explore, as a music and art major and as a person. And the
way my film career was headed, I didn't feel that that was
going to offer me a way to develop any more, except on a
very superficial level. I mean, how many Wasp
On December 10, 1986, Susan Cabot,
59, was bashed to death with a weight-lifting bar by her
own son Timothy in the bedroom of her Encino home. In typical
modern-courtroom style, the victim became the accused: The
defense said that Tim was an emotional wreck because Cabot
was an overprotective, disturbed mother, and because their
home was filled with such "massive filth and decay"
that the conditions constituted child abuse. ("Child"
Timothy was 22 when he caved in his mom's head.) None of
the above was even faintly evident to this frequent visitor
to the Cabot home, but there was also some legalese double-talk
about steroids and an experimental hormone the kid was taking
(he was born dwarfed), defense arguments that conjured up
images of Cabot as Sunset Blvd.'s Norma Desmond, and even
published accounts which made Tim the love child of Cabot
and either actor Christopher Jones or Jordan's King Hussein.
By the time all the hot air cleared from the courtroom,
Timothy Scott Roman received a three-year suspended sentence
and was placed on probation.
Tom Weaver is the author of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Film Flashbacks, Attack of the Monster Movie Makers
and many others available from McFarland