Classic stars on the small screen: Ann Sothern in ‘Susie’

With a natural charm and an extensive filmography reaching back to the late 1920s, it comes as no surprise that Ann Sothern was one of the many classic stars to move to television as the 20th century progressed.

Ann with Fred Brady in one of her films, Swing Shift Maisie (1943) (Image: Doctor Macro)

Ann with Fred Brady in Swing Shift Maisie (1943), one of the ten films in which she starred as Maisie Ravier (Image: Doctor Macro)

Before the Golden Globe-winning ‘The Ann Sothern Show’ began in 1958, Ann landed a starring role in the series ‘Susie,’ also known as ‘Private Secretary.’

The series ran for five seasons beginning in 1953, and as the two titles would suggest, Sothern portrays a secretary named Susie in this sitcom. Her boss is a New York talent agent named Peter Sands (portrayed by Don Porter, who also stars in one of my favorite classic television shows: ‘Gidget’).

Susie is devoted to her job and often goes above and beyond the call of duty. With a good heart but a barrel full of comedic mishaps, she attempts to fix Peter’s personal problems as well as the problems around the office.

Netflix Instant offers eight of the episodes of this series for viewing:

An advertisement from Private Secretary when it was re-run as Susie (Image: Cleveland Classic Media @ Blogspot)

An advertisement from Private Secretary when it was re-run as Susie (Image: Cleveland Classic Media @ Blogspot)

“What Every Secretary Knows”
Original air date: November 11, 1956 (Season 5)
Mr. Sands hopes to get a few of his clients into a new musical being produced by Bernard Hugo. He faces a dilemma when Mr. Hugo refuses to take any of his calls. Susie decides to do what she can to get her boss in with Mr. Hugo, but in the process accidentally volunteers him to plan a huge banquet.

“How to Handle the Boss”
Original air date: October 28, 1956 (Season 5)
Susie gets a side gig writing a magazine article about how to handle a boss. She’s having trouble writing it, and as the deadline looms she agrees to let her boyfriend ghostwrite the article for her – but she’s got bigger problems when his article ends up offending everyone!

“Not Quite Paradise”
Original air date: February 3, 1957 (Season 5)
Mr. Sands and Susie are invited to dinner with Susie’s best friend Vi, whose aunt and neighbor nosily conclude that Vi and Peter are a couple and that Susie is getting in the way of their relationship. Hoping to push Peter to propose to Vi, the two ladies work together to make Susie look bad.

“Three’s a Crowd”
Original air date: December 23, 1956 (Season 5)
Susie has attracted the attention of a producer and a playwright, who both vie for her attention. The trouble? Both are clients of Susie’s boss – and in their jealous rage over each other, they decide to cancel their contracts with him.

“Cat in a Hot Tin File”
Original air date: March 18, 1956 (Season 5)
A stray cat winds up in the office, and both Susie and Vi become enamored of him. Rather than toss him out on the street, they decide to hind him from Mr. Sands by stashing him in a filing cabinet. Their secret is revealed when Mr. Sands meets with an actress who is terribly allergic to cats.

“Dollars and Sense”
Original air date: November 25, 1956 (Season 5)
Susie realizes that she has a shopping problem. She decides to give her paycheck to Vi, who will give her a ration of $1 per day, but Vi isn’t up for the job so it is passed along to Mr. Sands.

“Old Dog, New Tricks”
Original air date: February 19, 1956 (Season 5)Susie loses yet another client for Mr. Sands when she refuses to stroke the ego of a child actor who has a crush on her.

“That’s No Lady, That’s an Agent”
Original air date: January 20, 1957 (Season 5)
A rival agent woos a Russian singer before he signs with Peter by using her feminine wiles. Susie, ready to get revenge, hears that the agent is looking for a new secretary and decides to pose as “Sonia” – dark wig, fake accent and all.

Ann Sothern and Don Porter (Image: Sitcoms Online)

Ann Sothern and Don Porter (Image: Sitcoms Online)

I can understand not being able to offer a full catalog of every episode, but I’m not sure why Netflix lists them out of order. Luckily, these episodes all hold up pretty well on their own and don’t require the viewer to keep track of the characters’ chronological progression.

“What Every Secretary Knows” is a good episode to start off with because it does a great job of setting up the relationship that Susie and her boss have as well as the mishap-laden episode structure of the series, but I would still prefer to watch them in the order in which they originally aired.

There are a total if 15 episodes in season 5, so with 8 available there are still some gaps in chronological viewing, but as I said, the episodes stand alone fairly well.

In terms of content, the series is both charming and funny. Ann Sothern does a great job of carrying the series, almost giving Lucille Ball-level comedy vibes in some of the episodes (though few shows, modern or classic, can compare to the greatness of ‘I Love Lucy’!).

Sothern and Porter have a great friendly chemistry, and the sidekick character of Vi is everything that a sidekick should be: funny, lovable but not overshadowing the show’s focal character.

Recommended for fans of: Ann Sothern, workplace comedies, Don Porter or predictable-but-fun mishap storylines

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2 thoughts on “Classic stars on the small screen: Ann Sothern in ‘Susie’

    • She’s so lovely, and I feel like she’s terribly under appreciated! One of my goals is always to introduce people to lesser-remembered films/performers, so hopefully readers who have Netflix will come across this post and become new fans of Ann. :)

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