Antioch University Santa Barbara Campus Mourns the Loss of Hollywood Talent Agent and Beloved Trustee, Susan Smith
“Susan was a gem, a one-of-a kind woman,” says Chair of the Board of Trustees, Victoria Riskin, “devoted, honest, and with a sense of integrity in a business where ethics are often compromised. The people who were lucky enough to be close to her – her friends and clients – adored her. She was not only smart, but she had a way of making you feel important.”
Susan Smith spent 44 years in the entertainment industry as an agent and then as a manager, handling a long list of actors in Hollywood. At the time of her death her clients included: Kathy Bates, Brian Dennehy, David Paymer, Melanie Lynsky, Bob Balaban, Harry Groener, Piper Laurie, Greta Scacchi, Liza Snyder, JD Taylor, Richard Masur, Sally Jensen, Halle Charlton, Charles Dance, Graham Beckel, and Geraint Wyn Davies. She was passionate about developing and supporting their talent, thinking of them as her children. She fought to get them what they deserved, stood up to power, ranted at injustice, and hated to let them down. “I am tough, but fair,” she said about herself. The men and women on the other side of the negotiating table from her often learned about honesty.
Susan’s roots with Antioch go back to her undergraduate days at the College where she spent three “transformational” years, as she called them. She was astounded to find a school that would actually give her academic credit for going to New York and working – something she was champing at the bit to do. In New York, she fell in love with the theater and actors – the magic of their gifts – and she could instantly see who had that special something. She used to say, “I don’t have any talent, but I sure as shit know who does.”
Susan trained countless assistants over the years, many who went on to hold lofty positions in the entertainment industry and some who left Hollywood because no one else compared to Susan. Her last assistant, Charles, was at her bedside morning, noon, and night, providing her with whatever she needed and with a devotion that awed her friends. He described the first day he met her when they sat at her kitchen table while she ate pistachios and watched CNN. “She told me it wasn’t going to be easy working for her but we’d have some fun, make a little money, and fight for her clients by giving it their all.” She was a “stickler,” Charles said. “If you didn’t use proper grammar, she was going to call you on it. And Lord help you if you didn’t say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’”
The feminine side of Susan was apparent to all who knew her. She loved antique furniture, old sterling silver picture frames, doilies, creams and perfumes and bubble baths, expensive handbags – she had closets-full – and shoes, bargain shopping at Loehmann’s, and her dog, Tucker. She was a devoted Trustee to Antioch and never missed a meeting if she could help it. She was asked to renew her term just a few months ago and she said, “I don’t know. Maybe you don’t need me,” in a vulnerable moment when she felt drained from battling cancer. When we said, “Yes, we really do want and need you,” she became teary and said, “Thank you. Antioch means so much to me.”
AUSB President Nancy Leffert said, “Susan was an ardent supporter of Antioch, always reminding me that we should ever keep doing what Antioch has always done best – providing an educational experience that supports each student toward a positive future.”
Good-bye Susan. We will miss you. You are irreplaceable.