“Suzanne Somers, best known for her roles on ‘Three’s Company’ and ‘Step by Step,’ has died,” People magazine reports, passing away from breast cancer a few days before she would have turned 77. Few obits explained how the actress got started.
Suzanne Somers first appeared on screen in American Graffiti, directed by an upstart named George Lucas, which 50 years ago in 1973 was wrapping up its theatrical release. Somers plays a “blonde in T-Bird” and through the window she mouths the words “I love you,” to Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss), cruising the streets with his sister Laurie Henderson (Cindy Williams) and boyfriend Steve Bolander (Ron Howard).
“I just saw a vision, I saw a goddess,” Curt says. “the most perfect dazzling creature I’ve ever seen. She spoke to me right through the window. I think she said ‘I love you.’ That means nothing to you people? You have no romance, no soul?”
The blonde is variously described as the wife of a local jeweler and a prostitute. Curt continues his pursuit, interrupted by an encounter with the “Pharaohs” gang, led by Joe, wonderfully played by Bo Hopkins.
Curt is slated to leave for college the next day, so he seeks out disc jockey Wolfman Jack, played by the real Wolfman, Robert Weston Smith.
“I’m looking for this girl,” Henderson says.
“Yeah, aren’t we all,” responds the Wolfman, who airs a message to the girl in the white T-bird to meet or call Curt at Burger City, “or the Wolfman gonna getcha!”
Henderson parks his Citroen near the phone both and falls asleep. The ring wakes him up, and for the first time viewers hear the words of Suzanne Somers.
“Yes, yes, this is Curt. Who are you?”
“Who are you expecting?”
“Do you drive a white T-bird?
“A white ‘56. I saw you on Third Street.”
“Who are you? Do you know me?”
“How do you know me?”
“It’s not important.”
“It’s important. It’s important to me. You’re the most beautiful, exciting thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I don’t know anything about you. Listen, listen, listen, could we meet someplace?
“I cruise Third Street. Maybe I’ll see you tonight.”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Curt. . .”
“Tell me your name, at least tell me your name.”
“Goodbye, Curt.” And the blonde hangs up.
The next morning Curt boards the plane to fly back east. In the movie’s final scene he looks out the window and there is the white T-Bird cruising the highway. Curt’s wistful expression says it all.
Between that and Somers’ first sighting, American Graffiti charts the adventures of Steve Bolander, Terry Fields (Charlie Martin Smith), and John Milner (Paul Le Mat), owner of the fastest car in the valley. He encounters Bob Falfa, played by Harrison Ford in his first screen role.
Falfa is looking for “a piss-yellow deuce coupe, supposed to be hot stuff.”
“That’s John Milner,” Terry says. “Nobody can beat him, man.”
“I ain’t nobody, dork,” replies Falfa, who later croons a verse from “Some Enchanted Evening” when the jilted Laurie winds up in his car. The soundtrack is solid oldies, all before the British invasion and perfectly timed. For example, when the blonde in the T-Bird tells Curt “I love you,” Frankie Lymon sings “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” a hit in 1956.
Wolfman Jack passed away in 1995. Bo Hopkins died last year and in 2023 Cindy Williams and Suzanne Somers depart the scene. She made her mark in sitcoms but should also be remembered for the movie that captures an era, and its music, like no other. And these days, as never before, it’s all about memory against forgetting.