Actress-singer Susanna Foster, who was featured in The Phantom of the Opera and several other 1940s Universal productions and whose adult life was plagued by alcoholism and mental illness, died of heart failure at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, N.J., on Jan. 17. She was 84.
Born in Chicago (on Dec. 6, 1924), Foster came to Hollywood in the 1930s. According to reports, MGM signed her when she was 12, but dropped her not long thereafter. (Reports also claim that MGM offered her the lead in National Velvet, but Foster refused the role because there would be no singing. If the story is true, MGM took forever to produce the film, which was released with Elizabeth Taylor in 1945.)
The Phantom of the Opera, Universal’s biggest hit of 1943, had Foster playing opposite Claude Rains (as the Phantom) and a fast-fading, post-MGM Nelson Eddy. Among Foster’s other film appearances of the period were the horror drama The Climax (1944), with Boris Karloff and Turhan Bey; Frisco Sal (1944), also with Bey; and That Night with You (1945), opposite Franchot Tone.
After abruptly leaving Hollywood in 1945, Foster performed on stage. She later married baritone Wilbur Evans.
Foster’s surviving son, Michael, has created a website in which he talks about her: “The Susanna Foster Chronicles: Phantom of the Heart.” (After falling into a hepatic coma, Foster’s other son, Philip, died at age 33.)