Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of Susanna Foster. Despite being beautiful, talented, and having the voice of an angel, she was never able to get her career off the ground. She is now remembered only for playing Christine in the 1943 film Phantom of the Opera.
Suzanne DeLee Flanders Larson was born in Chicago on December 6, 1924. At the age of twelve, she was placed under the patronage of MGM Studios and was prepared to be a movie star. Her classmates included other child stars such as Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. When she discovered her voice, she turned down the lead role in National Velvet because she would not have been able to sing. She was subsequently dismissed from MGM.
She was almost immediately signed by Paramount and, in 1939, she made her screen debut as Peggy in The Great Victor Herbert. Paramount billed her as “Susanna Foster”.
The Great Victor Herbert drew attention to Foster’s magnificent voice. One year later, she starred in another Paramount musical titled There’s Magic in Music. She played opposite Allan Jones, her co-star from Victor Herbert.
Foster later left Paramount and made Phantom of the Opera, her most famous film, with Universal. Phantom of the Opera also stars Claude Rains and Nelson Eddy and showcases Foster sustaining an almost unbelievable A-flat above high-C. The film was so popular it earned Foster the respect of the studio and a contract for seven other films.
In 1945, Foster gave up her film career and sold all her valuables in an attempt to help her family. She did start performing again in 1946 when Universal financed a European recital tour.
When she returned to America, she began performing in operettas and musicals. In 1948, she married a baritone named Wilbur Evans (1905-1987). Their marriage was never very happy. They were constantly moving from theater to theater and their lifestyle very likely caused Foster to miscarry their first child. During her second pregnancy, Foster went into labor two months early. Thankfully, her son, Michael, survived. Foster’s second son, Philip, was born in London while Evans was singing in South Pacific.
Foster wanted to make a comeback after Philip’s birth. The director of Phantom of the Opera offered to help but Evans was unwilling to let her move to Los Angeles with their sons. He even went so far as to sue her for custody. After he lost the suit, he refused to pay alimony. Foster was forced to live in dingy hotels and to work eighty hours a week.
Philip died of liver failure in 1985. Michael then took care of his mother and helped her get into the Lillian Booth Actor’s Home in 2003.
Susanna Foster died on January 17, 2009.