Anyone who has driven down the Avenue of the Arts knows the name Suzanne Roberts from the bright sign that glints outside of the Philadelphia Theatre Company building that was named after her—but not everyone may know her story.
Roberts was known around the city as a great supporter of the arts, a media personality, a performer and a philanthropist, and has been said by many to even be one of the City of Brotherly Love’s most notable cultural icons. The work, time and passion that Roberts demonstrated during her life on earth has made an impact on quite a significant amount of people.
“Suzanne’s legacy will be the transformative effect she had on the cultural landscape of Philadelphia — her belief in and dedication to the artistic talent in the region will be felt for generations to come,” said Philadelphia Theatre Company Producing Artistic Director Paige Price in a release. “For PTC, she championed a new world-class theatre for the city that would bring renewed life to the Avenue of the Arts. In fact, her very own signature graces the marquee of the theatre, representing her vibrant and colorful aesthetic. For decades, she has always offered us her unwavering support and friendship in ways we couldn’t have imagined. She was a generous performer at heart, and all future performances at the theatre will celebrate her truly unique spirit. Suzanne’s astonishing vivacity will be sorely missed as we say goodbye to one of the greatest supporters of the arts in our lifetime.”
At the time of her death, Roberts was 98 years old.
Roberts was born in the Philadelphia area and her love of theatre led her to study the Stanislavski Method of acting at the Tamara Daykarhanova School of the Stage in New York. Her performances on many of Philadelphia’s biggest stages included roles in ‘The Lion in Winter,’ ‘Lysistrata,’ Lady Macbeth in ‘Macbeth,’ Kate in ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ and Nurse Ratched in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ She last took to the stage in 2001, at Hedgerow Theatre Company in A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters.’
Roberts’ impact also was made in the broader entertainment world, doing voiceover work, appearing on the CBS show ‘A Dramatization of the Classics,’ and the weekly show ‘This Week in Philadelphia.’ To add to her various accolades, NBC also named her the “Number One Radio Actress in Philadelphia.” Her impressive work in the radio scene also prompted Mayor Richardson Dilworth and U.S. Sen. Joseph Clark to invite her to write and direct their radio and TV campaigns. Philadelphians can also check published author off of Roberts’ list of accomplishments—in 1952 the local icon turned her pioneering experience in radio and television into one of the first books on the subject, ‘The Candidate and Television.’
Nothing seemed to slow Roberts down, living every year down to the last minute. In 2001, sensing a lack of programming for seniors, she started five-minute segments called ‘Seeking Solutions With Suzanne,’ which aired on Comcast’s channel CN8 and CNN Headline News for almost two decades. The programming became known as one of her most successful ventures, and at the time of its start, Roberts was 80 years old. The segments featured Roberts undergoing cataract surgery, taking tap-dancing lessons, belly-dancing and even riding a motorcycle. The main objective was to show seniors that they could do anything, and that mission was accomplished. The programs earned two Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards and Roberts continued hosting the program until her 98th year.
As much as Roberts gave artistically, she also gave financially. According to a release, an avid volunteer in many areas, both Roberts and her husband gave millions to the arts—especially theatre and dance, which she attended regularly. The Suzanne F. Roberts Cultural Development Fund, which she created, encouraged dance and theater companies in the area, and ultimately made her one of their largest supporters.
The city will mourn the loss of an icon, but her work and legacy will continue to live on.