Susan Willis

Obituary
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  • "An eclectic character and a formidable will . A true..."
    - Polly Guarnieri
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WILLIS--Susan Crobaugh, died May 14, 2009, in New York City. Ms. Willis was born in Seneca County, Ohio, on August 27, 1925, the daughter of Burton and Mildred Crobaugh. Susan had one brother, Fred Crobaugh, who preceded her in death. Her marriage to Kirk Willis ended in divorce. As an actress, she worked extensively on Broadway in roles ranging from the classical Medea to Miss Mazeppa (opposite Ethel Merman) in Gypsy. She appeared alongside Sir Alec Guinness in Dylan, assumed the role of Fraulein Schneider (from Lotte Lenya) in the original production of the Tony winning musical, Cabaret. Her other Broadway credits include her debut in Take Me Along, plus Stephen Sondheim's Follies and Oliver with Patti LuPone. Much of Ms. Willis's career was situated in the theatre, including the off-Broadway Mirror Repertory stagings of Children of the Sun and The Madwoman of Chaillot. Her National Touring Company roles included a 350-city stint, playing Golda in Fiddler on the Roof (playing opposite five Tevyes), as well as performances in Mame, Picnic, Blithe Spirit, Desk Set, Zorba, and The Merchant of Venice. She essayed 23 of Shakespeare's characters over the years, beginning with her portrayal of Portia in The Merchant of Venice at the Barter Theatre in Virginia. Her regional and summer stock credits included Stella in Light Up the Sky as well as productions with the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, the Old Globe Theatre and the Cleveland Playhouse, where she won a fellowship and began her professional career after graduating from Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh. Her motion picture roles included Clint Eastwood's Mystic River opposite Sean Penn, The Majestic with Jim Carey, What About Bob with Bill Murray, She Devil with Meryl Streep, plus the head teacher in The Faculty. She also appeared in Paul Newman's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon, Marigolds, Ropewalk, and Petty Crimes. For three years, on the television series, All My Children, she played Helga Voynitzeva (Demetri's maid, who was ultimately thrown off a parapet in Budapest by Erica Kane). She also made guest appearances on Law & Order, Third Watch, S.V.U., the Fox-TV series, Million Dollar Mysteries and HBO's Sex in the City where she played Cynthia Nixon's elderly neighbor. She crowned her lengthy career by creating a unique cabaret act with pianist Rod Derefinko, called My First 50 Years in the Theatre, in which she performed songs by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and Noel Coward. For many years Willis served as a council member of The Episcopal Actors Guild. She was also very active with The Village Recycling Center since its inception, and with the Fire Island Pines Arts Council. She was in the process of doing developmental reading of two plays, Dusa Died in Pittsburgh and The Roadway to Heaven. A memorial service is planned for June. At her request, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Episcopal Actors Guild, 1 East 29 Street, New York, NY 10016.

Published in The New York Times on May 17, 2009