When actress and singer Susan Anton walks into a room, people don’t just notice her statuesque beauty, although at 5’11” it is hard to miss, but also her radiant smile that comes so easily. At 66 years young, she’s had many successes in her career and personal life and continues to venture into some familiar and less-familiar territory. Very much in the game, she continues to pursue her passions as an entertainer, mentor, businesswoman and maybe even an author, down the road.
Her inspiration to get into show business started at a young age. As the oldest daughter in a family of five children, she watched a lot of TV while serving as family babysitter and fell in love with the Frank Sinatra classic movie, “Young at Heart” as well as musicals in general. It was then that she knew she wanted to be a singer and actress. Little did she know that many years later, she would actually get the chance to sing “Come Rain or Shine,” a song from that Sinatra classic, to her inspiration – Old Blue Eyes himself.
From her tenure as Miss California, to winning runner up in Miss America, to some well-publicized relationships along with a constant presence in Hollywood, New York City, Las Vegas and Japan, Susan Anton has in many ways led a charmed life, and one full of lessons that have made her who she is today—an enduring Las Vegas icon.
Recently we had the privilege to sit with Susan Anton and find out more about her life, past and present, and her future as she continues to forge ahead with her decades-long career.
Vegas Legal Magazine (VLM): What brought you to Vegas?
Susan Anton (SA): The first time I was ever in Vegas was when I was 15 years old. I was on a tour with a group of 14 &15 year-old teenagers from my hometown in Yucaipa. I was in awe of all the lights (of the Strip) going as far as I could see. From the time I was 21 years old, I have been in and out of Vegas.
VLM: What was your first job in Vegas?
SA: My first Vegas job was in the production show, Turn it On at the Hacienda Hotel, where the Mandalay Bay now sits. I will never forget the first time I saw my name on the marquee. Granted the steak special had bigger lettering than my name, but it was (and still is) one of the most exciting moments in my life!
VLM: What was your quintessential “Vegas moment?”
SA: After my 3 year run at the Hacienda Hotel I returned to Los Angeles where my TV, Film and recording career took off. I returned to Las Vegas a few years later and co-headlined with some of the great Headliners of the day. The first time I saw my name in lights alongside George Burns with thrilling. I worked with everyone from Ben Vereen and Sammy Davis Jr. to Tony Orlando, Paul Anka and Kenny Rogers (who I later toured with for 2 years) and many, many more. I was spending about 40 weeks out of the year in Vegas. Work took me back to Los Angeles and New York, but several years later I returned to Las Vegas with the The Great Radio City Spectacular at the Flamingo Hotel. I had been the headliner on a 72-city tour with the Radio City Rockettes. It was the 60th anniversary of Radio City Music Hall and the first time the Rockettes performed outside of New York City so taking the show on the road was a big deal. When our 72-city tour ended we came to Las Vegas and took up residency at the Flamingo Hotel for the next 7 years. It was at this time my husband, Jeff Lester and I decided to become residents of Las Vegas. The Rockettes are truly a talented group of dancers who work hard. I learned so much from them in our 7 years together and many of the girls decide to stay in Las Vegas and call it home and are still my friends today.
VLM: Who has been the most interesting and fun entertainer you have worked with?
SA: Four people come to mind right away—George Burns, Kenny Rogers, Sammy Davis, Jr. and of course, Frank Sinatra. I was fortunate that these talented entertainers became my friends as well as mentors. I have great memories of sharing the bill with Kenny Rogers and touring on his personal jet when he was at the height of his career, as well as being motivated by Sammy’s great performances and George’s comradery. I also enjoyed working with Dinah Shore. She was a gracious and funny woman. I remember one of her many dinner parties when I was dating Dudley Moore. I ended up being part of an impromptu singing and playing session with several other guests including Dudley, Jack Lemmon, Roger Miller, Angie Dickenson, Dinah Shore and the one and only Willie Nelson.
VLM: Is there a celebrity that you admire?
SA: Besides being an inspiration to me, Frank [Sinatra] stands out because of the way he made others feel when he was around. He always knew how to take care of the people around him. I remember when I introduced him to my mother, a long-time fan. A group of us were about to take a picture and my mother was standing on the end. Frank suddenly stopped mid-photo and turned to my mother and said, “A lady never stands in the end.” He then had her take the picture while standing next to him. It was that kind of personal touch that made him extra special.
VLM: Since your move to Vegas 20 years ago, is there a favorite project you have worked on?
SA: Besides The [Great] Radio City Spectacular, I enjoy performing at the Smith Center. I think it’s great that Las Vegas has a place where young people can watch live performing arts. My favorite venue at the Smith Center is the Cabaret Jazz. I like the intimacy and the connection you make with the audience when performing. I also enjoy mentoring young performers. I recently spent the day coaching some of Las Vegas’s talented high school students for Nevada High School Music Theater Awards. The winning student will represent our state in New York City this summer for the National competition.
VLM: How do you feel about being labeled an icon?
SA: I feel humbled and appreciated. It is an honor I take seriously. I always think back to my upbringing. My parents worked hard to provide for us. My dad was a proud Veteran of two wars and served in law enforcement as Detective Wally Anton for over 20 years. Watching my parents live their lives gave me a good education and foundation to live my life with the awareness and the privilege of creating a life that can have an impact on others and your environment.
VLM: Anything you would do differently?
SA: Well, I would have bought more property in Las Vegas! But seriously, I would have taken advantage of the opportunity to stay in New York and work longer with Academy Award winning director Mike Nichols. I met Mike when I was appearing in David Rabe’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Hurlyburly at the Barrymore Theater in New York City. I know I could have learned so much from him. But I was young, homesick and wanted to go back to my friends and family in California.
VLM: What current projects are you working on?
SA: About 20 years ago, my husband Jeff and I started our film productions company here in town [called] Big Picture Studios. We are working on various film projects in Las Vegas and beyond. We are in the early phases of development on a movie about The Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, WASPs. With the success of the movie, Hidden Figures we feel the stories of these brave women need to be told so everyone can recognize the contributions they made to our war efforts in the 1940’s. I also have a performance this August 25 & 26 at Vitellos in Shelia E’s, E-Spot showroom in Valley Village, Los Angeles. I’ll be reuniting with my band of over 35 years. Closer to home, this September, I will be performing at The Summerlin Library’s Performing Art Center.
VLM: Are there any other endeavors you are involved in?
SA: A few years back, I became a minority partner and brand ambassador in a new spirits company, Spa Girl Cocktails. It has been fun watching it take off in popularity. They have won some awards in spirits competition in Northern and Southern California. It’s now available in California, Arizona and at all of Lee’s Liquor locations across Las Vegas.
VLM: Have you considered writing a book?
SA: Yes, it is one of those ideas that keeps knocking at my door. I just need to find the time to organize my memories and put them down on paper.
VLM: Any advice for aspiring entertainers?
SA: The best advice I can give others is the advice I got from an old acting coach. His advice was to have a clear understanding of what you want—is it fame, money or for the love of it? Have clear motives and be true to that. And if you love it, it will love you back. Be engaged and bring your passion to it.
VLM: Can you tell us about any organizations you are involved with?
SA: Earlier this year I spoke at the Women with a Purpose Conference in Los Angeles. The event was started and hosted by some of the most dynamic female leaders to help empower women in many areas of their lives.
VLM: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
SA: Still being active in the industry and in the community. I would love to continue to be a mentor to Broadway-bound high school kids. I do know that whatever lies ahead is relevant and what it’s supposed to be.
VLM: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
SA: There are so many things to do in Vegas. I especially like going on hikes with my husband Jeff and our dog Joe at Red Rock. On special occasions we enjoy going to our favorite restaurant in Summerlin, Vintner Grill. The food and ambience are amazing. Coincidentally, the owner’s wife, Joelle, is a former Rockette and good friend. We met during our time with The Radio City Spectacular. So, in a way, it is a full circle of my earlier life in Vegas.
VLM: What is on your bucket list of things to do?
SA: One of my goals is to have a second home in California. Jeff and I still have many personal and professional connections in California. I would also love to move to a small, quaint village in Italy and live there for a year. I think it would be amazing to experience it as a resident, even if only temporarily.
VLM: Any last words for our readers?
SA: I want to thank the people of Las Vegas for all the blessings and opportunities. I am incredibly grateful. It really brings home that the gifts you receive are greater than you are asking for.
Susan Anton is a resident of Las Vegas, Nevada where she shares a home with her husband of 25 years, film director Jeff Lester and their dog, Joe. We are certain that we will continue to hear of many more successful ventures from Susan. Be sure to visit her website for more details of upcoming events and news www.susananton.com
Sabrina S. Siracusa is a Las Vegas-based freelance copywriter. With an undergraduate degree in psychology and an ABA Paralegal Certificate, Siracusa’s specialty is crafting SEO-filled content for legal, medical and career-based websites. She is currently the Publications Specialist at the State Bar of Nevada. Learn more about Siracusa and her work at www.writergirl.biz