Somers Lovin’ Three’s Com­pany star Suzanne Somers on equal pay, Hol­ly­wood and 40 years of mar­riage to a Canuck

Three’s Com­pany star Suzanne Somers and her Canuck hubby, Alan Hamel, open up about five decades of ro­mance, health and her own Hol­ly­wood Time’s Up his­tory

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Mike Criso­lago

IT TENDS TO BE NEAR THE END of a long work day when the tele­vi­sion an­nouncer’s voice booms through the in­ter­com in Suzanne Somers’ home of­fice, the ac­tress ex­plains – apro­pos, I think to my­self, given the 71-year-old forged her fame in the small screen spot­light. She goes on, dream­ily rem­i­nisc­ing about these “come on down” calls of a dif­fer­ent sort, de­liv­ered by her hus­band, Alan Hamel, 81, Toronto-born game show host and name­sake of Big Al’s Bar, the cou­ple’s home wa­ter­ing hole. He buzzes to in­vite his beloved to in­dulge in a pre-din­ner tip­ple, to which Somers glides on a fresh coat of lip­stick and hur­ries to join him.

“It’s out­door, and we watch the dusk turn to dark and put on that cock­tail bar mu­sic: ‘You must re­mem­ber this, a kiss is just a kiss,’” Somers muses, re­call­ing the line from “As Time Goes By,” the tune made fa­mous in Casablanca. “Pretty soon we’re danc­ing.”

It’s a rou­tine that re­curs four or five times a week, she adds, swoon­ing through the details with the airy con­tent­ment of a youth struck by first love. Ex­cept, of course, they’ve been to­gether for 50 years and mar­ried for 41 of them – a rar­ity in Hol­ly­wood, where celebrity unions of­ten jump the shark faster than the Three’s Com­pany spinoff, The Rop­ers.

The pair is all smiles when they ar­rive at this magazine’s Toronto head­quar­ters, the Zoomer­plex, to dis­cuss their book Two’s Com­pany, which re­veals how they’ve nav­i­gated the highs and lows of their relationship. Somers breezes in, her blond locks pop­ping against her black dress as she snug­gles onto the couch next to Hamel, with his grey curls and leather jacket, who de­clares, “We haven’t spent one night apart in over 37 years. We’re to­gether 24 hours a day. Most peo­ple couldn’t han­dle that. We love it.” Somers adds, “It’s a very ro­man­tic time in life.”

They aren’t shy about shar­ing the in­ti­mate details of that ro­mance ei­ther – TMI be damned – from how they knock boots at least once a day to how Somers in­jects Hamel with testos­terone each week on “Testos­terone Tues­day” to boost his en­ergy and sex drive. He smiles and quips, “So don’t call us Wed­nes­day.”

“When I was younger, they used to call these ages the Golden Years,” Somers re­calls, “and it had a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion of two lit­tle old peo­ple sit­ting in a rock­ing chair. [To­day] Golden Years has a whole new def­i­ni­tion.”

The grand­par­ents of six – Somers re­veals they’re soon to be great­grand­par­ents – they still work at least eight hours a day on up­com­ing projects. He brings her a morn­ing cof­fee in bed and she cooks him or­ganic meals. They hike reg­u­larly through Cal­i­for­nia’s San Jac­into Moun­tains, in­dulge in tequila and main­tain a bioiden­ti­cal hor­mone re­place­ment reg­i­men, which they be­lieve keeps them far younger than their birth cer­tifi­cates sug­gest. “I thought I would be old at 70,” Somers says. “I’m 71 now. I’m not old.”

And that’s when it be­comes clear, some­where be­tween talk of tequila and testos­terone, that the se­cret to this cou­ple’s vi­tal­ity is de­cep­tively sim­ple – they’re a gen­uine team. It’s been that way al­most from the day they met back in 1968, on the San Fran­cisco set of An­niver­sary Game.

Somers, 22 at the time and a sin­gle mom to a young son, tried out for a job as a prize model on the game show. The pro­duc­ers cut her af­ter one day. Still, Hamel, the host, 32 and a fa­ther of two chil­dren on the cusp of a di­vorce, was im­me­di­ately taken with the blond bomb­shell. “It was lust at first sight, but it was a lot more,” he writes in Two’s Com­pany. He phoned her at home and asked her to his ho­tel suite, where they en­joyed pot brown­ies, Dun­geness crab and their first in­ti­mate en­counter.

The cou­ple never looked back. The years that fol­lowed in­volved ef­forts rang­ing from blend­ing their fam­i­lies to Somers at­tempt­ing to carve out her big break. The lat­ter ar­rived in 1973, when she ap­peared as the mys­te­ri­ous beauty in the white Thun­der­bird in Amer­i­can Graf­fiti. The part caught the eye of Johnny Car­son, who in­vited her to make her na­tional tele­vi­sion de­but on The Tonight Show, open­ing doors for guest stints on var­i­ous TV se­ries. Then, in 1977 – the year she and Hamel mar­ried – op­por­tu­nity, ahem, came and knocked on her door. Somers landed her ca­reerdefin­ing role of ditzy Chrissy Snow on­theABCsit­com Three’sCom­pany.

The hit farce, about a man (John Rit­ter) pre­tend­ing to be gay so he can room with two women (Somers and Joyce DeWitt), shot the 30-yearold to in­stant sex sym­bol sta­tus. As the se­ries pro­gressed she be­came, ar­guably, its most bank­able star, a no­tion Somers tested in 1980, at the out­set of the show’s fifth sea­son, when she, with Hamel’s help ne­go­ti­at­ing, de­manded equal pay to lead­ing male TV stars of the day. The net­work re­fused, drop­ping her from the show.

“You were fab­u­lous, and I never thought they’d let you go,” DeWitt said in 2012, on an episode of

Somers’ in­ter­net talk show Suzanne Somers Break­ing Through. “They could not re­spect the fem­i­nine con­tri­bu­tion. You went up against ruth­less­ness, and it came down.”

In hind­sight, Somers be­lieves that the net­work brass viewed the sit­u­a­tion, in part, as, “Here’s Chrissy Snow think­ing she could be paid what men are be­ing paid.”

“I be­lieve that Suzanne Somers is right. Many peo­ple can’t get beyond the char­ac­ter an ac­tor plays to see the real per­son,” Lynn Span­gler, pro­fes­sor and au­thor of Tele­vi­sion Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sit­coms and Fem­i­nism, says. “How­ever, their treat­ment of her could sim­ply re­flect how they saw all women.”

To­day, rev­e­la­tions about fe­male tal­ents, like ac­tress Michelle Wil­liams, who was paid 1,500 times less than co-star Mark Wahlberg to reshoot scenes in the 2017 film All the Money in the World, and Jen­nifer Lawrence, who the 2014 Sony Pic­tures email hack showed made less than her male Amer­i­can Hus­tle co-stars, put gen­der pay dis­par­ity in Hol­ly­wood un­der in­creased scru­tiny. Forty years ago, there were no email hacks or so­cial me­dia cru­sades trig­ger­ing calls for equal­ity.

“In [1980], when you have a sys­tem that is over­whelm­ingly run by men, the ex­ec­u­tives are men, the agents are men, the lawyers are men, there is no one to ad­vo­cate for you,” Joanne Lip­man, me­dia ex­ec­u­tive and au­thor of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Work­ing To­gether, says. “It’s a lit­tle frus­trat­ing that things haven’t changed since Suzanne Somers asked for equal pay decades ago.”

“It makes me laugh to think that Chrissy Snow from Three’s Com­pany was an early pay par­ity fem­i­nist,” Somers adds. “I got hurt, but we didn’t get mad. It was Alan who said to me, when he came back from that non-ne­go­ti­a­tion [with ABC], that we’re go­ing to make this work for us.”

And they did. Post- Three’s Com­pany the cou­ple dou­bled down, like out­laws blaz­ing their own trail through show biz’s Wild West.

“My dear Al, who grew up shoot­ing pool at Spad­ina and Col­lege in Toronto, has in­cred­i­ble street smarts, which he has ap­plied to our busi­nesses,” Somers says.

Hamel ar­ranged for her to per­form a stage show at the MGM Grand in Las Ve­gas for two years, a gig that led to a decade of play­ing Sin City while earn­ing a 1987 Las Ve­gas Fe­male En­ter­tainer of the Year honour. Mean­while, her en­dorse­ment of the best­selling ex­er­cise de­vice the Thigh­mas­ter, a campy and ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence on com­mer­cial TV in the 1990s, kept the ac­tress in the pub­lic eye and al­lowed her to launch ev­ery­thing from jew­elry lines to clean­ing prod­ucts and or­ganic cos­met­ics.

“The Home Shop­ping Net­work – I did not share Alan’s vi­sion on this, so I re­luc­tantly agreed,” Somers ad­mits. She was even­tu­ally in­ducted into the Direct Re­sponse (In­fomer­cial) Hall of Fame in 2014.

She also trav­elled over­seas to en­ter­tain Amer­i­can troops, re­turned to sit­coms in the late 1980s through the 1990s with star­ring roles on She’s the Sher­iff and Step By Step as well as a Can­did Cam­era re­boot and com­peted on Danc­ing with the Stars in 2015, at age 68, among other projects. In ad­di­tion she be­came a best­selling au­thor, pen­ning 26 books rang­ing in gen­res from self-help to cook­ing to health and well­ness guides.

“If you think of all the women of the ’70s, I’m one of the few still stand­ing be­cause I con­sciously chose to con­tin­u­ously rein­vent my­self,” notes Somers.

The cou­ple’s life, how­ever, wasn’t all sit­coms and Thigh­mas­ters. In 2001, Somers un­der­went a lumpec­tomy for breast cancer, de­clin­ing chemo­ther­apy and, in­stead, us­ing a drug de­rived from mistle­toe ex­tract. She went on to cham­pion var­i­ous al­ter­na­tive medicines for bat­tling cancer – high-pro­file pro­mo­tion that drew crit­i­cism from the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. Her 2005 onewoman Broad­way show, The Blonde in the Thun­der­bird, closed early af­ter poor re­views and, in 2007, wild­fires claimed the cou­ple’s Mal­ibu home. They moved into a tem­po­rary res­i­dence, which was contaminated with black mould, caus­ing myr­iad health prob­lems and, a year later, while stay­ing at a ho­tel that was host­ing a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­fer­ence, Somers fell crit­i­cally ill. Af­ter med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als stum­bled over a di­ag­no­sis, she had her hair an­a­lyzed by an al­ter­na­tive doc­tor who told her she’d been poi­soned

with a drug called suc­cinyl­choline. “This was hard­ball,” she writes in Two’s Com­pany of the sus­pected poi­son­ing. “I could never prove it. Nor could I talk about it, lest I come off as a nut­case.” She fell into a deep de­pres­sion.

“[Alan] never gave up on me, and we’ve never given up on each other,” Somers says. “So you learn a lot. You can choose to say, ‘Poor me,’ or ‘How can I use this to make my­self grow?’’’

As she’s prone to do, Somers par- layed neg­a­tives into pos­i­tives, writ­ing books about her set­backs in the hope of help­ing oth­ers nav­i­gate dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. “I sell my prob­lems. What other peo­ple might see as neg­a­tives, I see as op­por­tu­ni­ties,” she says. “The older I get, the more cre­dence I get with my mes­sage.”

The ac­tress notes that she has at least three more books in the works while hint­ing at a new fit­ness prod­uct that could ar­rive this year and, per­haps, in this age of tele­vi­sion re­boots, from Mur­phy Brown to Roseanne, even the reprisal of her most fa­mous char­ac­ter. “All these years later, I feel that Chrissy Snow never fin­ished ex­pand­ing her char­ac­ter and some­day, I may bring her back in an­other form. ”

What­ever the fu­ture holds, per­son­ally or pro­fes­sion­ally – and judg­ing by their track record, it won’t go ex­actly as planned – the only cer­tainty is that Somers and Hamel will face it to­gether.

2018

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1978

1980

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1978

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1980

Joyce DeWitt, John Rit­ter and Suzanne Somers as Janet, Jack and Chrissy

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