Bent on Stardom

Susanne Benton

Susanne played “Nina” in Robert Altman’s movie “That Cold Day in the Park” (1969).
Entire movie can be seen here on YouTube.

A favorite of the Drive-In Movie crowd, the busty Miss Benton parlayed a spread in the magazine into a decent film career.  Able to the play the crass, tough, independent woman, Susanne was dynamic in roles that allowed her to stand up to male characters or authority in general.

A gifted actress with plenty talent, so many folks in the industry surely took her acting ability less seriously than her body.  But that was their low-minded mistake.  Yes, Susanne had the body to beat the band, but she was also a gifted thespian that gave it her all in her roles.

Susanne started out in guest spots on television in such series as “Ironside” and “The Virginian” before getting some minor roles in movies.  Her first film role was in the drug-induced anti-government flick “Jigsaw.”  A product of its times, “Jigsaw” was a terrible movie that relied heavily on conspiracy theories and acid flashbacks.  Her next role would be in a better film.  In “That Cold Day in the Park,” Susanne plays Nina in an unusual film about a middle-aged spinster that allows a young, homeless beefcake to lodge in her house for free.

Perhaps Susanne is best known to mainstream audiences for her work in the classic anti-war comedy “Catch-22.”  An A-List film boasting the likes of Jon Voight, Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin, Miss Benton played the object of every soldier’s lust as the general’s WAC.  In a classic scene, the horny pilots can’t keep their focus on their mission briefing while Susanne sits in the corner, licking her lips and shifting her skirt.  The role was a minor one for Miss Benton but it opened doors.

Next would come the film “Cover Me Babe” with Robert Forster.  Susanne was given co-star billing in this solid tale of an arrogant young film student (Forster) who cares only for his art and not for the people that help him make his art.  Susanne is brilliant in her role as Forster’s girlfriend who is eager to help him express his artistic ambitions in front of the camera.  When he asks Susanne to make love to a shy fellow student, for his film, Susanne isn’t eager to oblige his request but is eager to find acceptance in her lover’s eyes.  She gives an extraordinary performance, removing her clothes in a love scene, trying to “act” the part of a seductress but far more concerned with proving to the man she loves that she can be relied on to assist in his artistic pursuits.  Although “Cover Me Babe” is strictly drive-in material, Miss Benton gives a terrific performance.

Susanne gave a great performance opposite Robert Forster put it didn’t lead to many roles.  She worked almost exclusively in television during the early 1970s before she returned to film in 1975 with two of her best roles.  First, in L.Q. Jones’ classic post-apocalyptic flick, “A Boy and His Dog,” Susanne played the cunning twist to the hilt.  In what has become her most recognizable role, Miss Benton played the part of cunning seductress Quilla June Holmes.  It’s her assignment to bring Don Johnson, the “boy” of the title, to her secret society so he can be used for stud purposes.  The leaders of the society want the boy to impregnate their women but Quilla wants him to help her in her revolution.  Susanne shows off her acting chops in this film, portraying Quilla as the lovable girl who will do anything to please and then, at the drop of a hat, turning her into the calculating, ruthless femme fatale exposing her true intents.

In the same year, Miss Benton landed a role in the drive-in flick “Best Friends.”  An unusual role for Susanne, she plays the prim and proper, stand-by-your-man type.  Engaged to a man-in-demand, Susanne goes on a road trip with her husband-to-be, his best pal who has recently been discharged from the Army and a free-spirit hippy chick her fiance is trying to set his pal up with.  Friendship leads to lust and then hostility, but through it all, Susanne remains loyal to her philandering man.  Although she would work on into the early 1980s, “Best Friends” was her last solid role.  Her last film was opposite the lovely Caroline Munro in “The Last Horror Film.”

Granted, Susanne Benton is best known to those folks who delve into drive-in cinema, but she was an amazing actress regardless the genre.  Perhaps the A-List folks didn’t take her too seriously because of her full chest, but she had plenty of talent that wasn’t all found in her bra.  A master at feminine wiles, Susanne showed in her films that she could slam dunk the role of the deceitful skirt while also hitting a homerun with the loyal southern belle type character.  She was gifted–no one can argue with that.

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