Suzanne Somers was pure showbiz

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Friday nights on CBS, Suzanne Somers always held my hand when we walked on stage. Sitting on stools before the cameras she made certain to cross her left leg in my direction, explaining that it would send a positive subliminal message to viewers about our friendship.

Suzanne, who died Sunday at her home in Palm Springs after recurring bouts with breast cancer, was 100 percent showbiz in the best old-fashioned sense.

As we opened each “Candid Camera” show I made sarcastic cracks about her appearance. (She enjoyed paring sexy glam outfits with schoolgirl pigtails.) I received hundreds of letters from viewers scolding me for treating my partner that way. They had no idea that Suzanne encouraged me to do it, even offering suggestions for my putdowns.

She got her start in the 1973 film “American Graffiti,” never saying a word but drawing attention for a role billed only as “Blonde in T-Bird.” A few years later she landed a part as Chrissy Snow on the hit ABC sitcom “Three’s Company,” a job Suzanne lost after demanding to be paid as much as her male co-stars.

In years that followed she starred as a song and dance headliner in Vegas, in the sitcom “Step by Step,” and in several films. She wrote over two dozen books, 14 of which became bestsellers.

Soon after we met Suzanne sent me a ThighMaster, the exercise gadget that she and her husband Alan Hamel pitched relentlessly, managing to sell over 10 million units. A few months later she called me into her dressing room to test her new product, which she dubbed the FaceMaster. She insisted it would create a more youthful and healthy appearance by sending jolts of electric current through wires pasted to the user’s face.

I declined to try it, privately believing that it seemed less scientific and more like something our prop department might come up with for a TV gag.

In fact, I came to question the health advice she offered in her books and in her many appearances on home-shopping channels. But she practiced what she preached — even embracing alternative and unproved treatments for her breast cancer.

Suzanne genuinely cared about people, especially her many fans. At first she struggled doing “Candid Camera” routines in the field because she couldn’t bring herself to deceive people, even during a brief practical joke.

What I remember most fondly about my friend was her infectious laugh. When our pre-recorded sequences played for the studio audience she would laugh so loudly that our director asked me if he should cut her microphone. Knowing her to be genuine, I said no.

On a show that promoted the word “smile,” Suzanne Somers was a perfect fit.

Copyright 2023 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Peter Funt’s latest book is “Playing POTUS: The Power of America’s Acting Presidents,” about comedians who impersonated presidents.