Respected long-time talent representative Susan Smith, owner of The Susan Smith Co., died this morning at Cedars Sinai Medical Center surrounded by loved ones. She was 71. Smith, who had battled various cancers for decades, had been in the hospital since falling ill 18 days ago. On Wednesday, she underwent surgery for internal bleeding but by that time, she was gravely ill, so relatives and friends used the last couple of days to say their good-byes. “Susan is finally able to get a table in a booth next to her darlings Marion Dougherty and Phyllis Huffman in a place that was akin to her beloved “Carlyle Hotel,” Smith’s associate Charles E. Whitaker III said. Smith spent 44 years in the entertainment business, first as an agent and then as a manager, working with such long-time clients as Kathy Bates, Brian Dennehy, David Paymer and Melanie Lynskey, with whom she had a close bond. “Susan was my 2nd mum, & had represented me since I was 17,” Lynskey tweeted. “I will miss her forever.” Smith was known for her love of independence (she never worked for anyone but herself) and her great eye for talent — acting or otherwise. She famously steered client Paula Wagner from acting to agenting and groomed her for four years before Wagner went to CAA, one of many successful Hollywood agents and producers whose careers Smith launched. “Susan led the way for all the boutique agencies,” veteran talent agent Michael Greene said. “She was such a class act and a beautiful and pure example of caring about and developing artists. One of a kind – true old school.” Here are portions of a Memoriam of Smith by Whitaker, who worked for her for the past 20 months.
Susan began her career in New York City founding a little company known as Susan Smith & Associates. Through her sheer will and determination, she would go on to become one of the greatest and most respected agents this business has ever seen. Even made more impressive that she was a woman in a time when women were not expected to be leaders of industry.
Susan created more careers in front of and behind the scenes than quite possibly anyone in this business. She always said, “If I could have people remember one thing about me, it’s that I always had great taste.” And she was exactly right. In the recent documentary, “Casting By,” she remarked how she loved New York because that’s where all the real actors were. She would say, “I don’t have any talent, but I sure as shit know who does.”
She left agenting to become a manager in 2001, citing the changing dynamics of the business. At the time, she had the most Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe winners as an agent not from one of the big 5 agencies. She was also one of the first American agents to mine the UK for talent. Even amongst giants, Susan Smith stood tall, strong and proud.
Known for her notorious work ethic, Susan has employed a who’s who of industry stalwarts, who continue to succeed across the vast landscape, taking what they learned from her company and applying it every single day. If you didn’t make it working for her, chances are you probably weren’t cut out for this kind of work.
Some of her first words to me, while sitting at her kitchen table over a bag of Pistachio Nuts while watching CNN, were that she is “tough, but fair.” It was never going to be easy, but we were going to have some fun, have some laughs, make a little money and fight for these clients the best way she knew how (by giving everything we could).
And that’s exactly what we did. Susan was what I like to call a stickler. You could be the greatest orator on the planet, but if you didn’t conjugate your verbs correctly; she was going to call you on it. 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.” You must always remember to say “Please” and “Thank You.” And call your mother.
Working for Susan was difficult because you could see her growing fatigued physically. While she remained sharp as a tack mentally, she was slowing down. That sort of thing happens to you when you fight and beat seven cancers. The sicker Susan became, the more responsibilities I took on in conjunction not because I had to, but because she asked me to.
To her current clients (in alpha order): Bob Balaban, Kathy Bates, Graham Beckel, Halle Charlton, Charles Dance, Brian Dennehy, Linda Emond, Harry Groener, Sandy Jensen, Piper Laurie, Melanie Lynskey, Richard Masur, David Paymer, Greta Scacchi, Liza Snyder, JD Taylor, and Geraint Wyn Davies… Please know that even while she was in the hospital, you were always her top and MOST important priority. Your health, happiness and well-being were all she ever wanted to see taken care of even in the midst of all her physical turmoil. She always referred to you all as her children and in that way she never wanted to let you down or not give you what she felt you deserved. Simply put, you were LOVED immensely.
Lastly, Susan always said that she hated when people referred to her as “tough” because it made her feel like they thought she wasn’t feminine and she would tell you that she was just as girly as the next one and she was. She took her shopping addiction from the sales floor of Loehmann’s to the web browser of Safari (for all you MAC users) and had what seemed like a never-ending cavalcade of creams, applicators and ointments to keep her looking pretty, healthy and ready for a good time.
Her favorite saying up until the last time I had a chance to speak with her was “You have to know with whom you’re having the pleasure.” Well Susan Joan Smith, I knew who I was having the pleasure with and I wouldn’t trade one second of time I was able to spend learning, loving and living in your company. You showed me the world and for that I am forever grateful.
I love you, I miss you, and I will always remember you and what you’ve done for me for as long as I’m able to breathe on this planet Earth. You were my mentor, my friend, my pseudo-mother, my drill sergeant, my rock, my bane, my hope, my inspiration. I know we will see each other again and when we do, you’re probably going to say: “Charles, how many times do I have to tell you to proofread your memoriam’s? Your grammar is terrible. I thought you went to the Harvard of the Midwest… Bradley University.”
Forty-Four Years of Unbridled Passion for the Creative Community; it goes without saying that our girl is a tough act to follow. I’m not sure if you all know this, but Susan is quite possibly the only person in our community who never had a boss. She was an entrepreneur in every sense of the word.
I’m pretty sure wherever you are now you’re negotiating the “AND” billing and ALL PAID ADS and heaven help them if they suggest a honey-wagon. At least one-third of a triple-banger or the deal’s off. And in the end, we all know that’s exactly what you are going to get. That will be the GOOD NEWS FOR THE JEWS, my sweet Soozy Q.
With my deepest respect and gratitude for all that you’ve done for me and everyone else who had the privilege of being in your presence,
Charles Everett Whitaker III
Devoted and Loyal Associate of Susan Smith
- Melanie Lynskey