Perry Mason actress Susanne Cramer had a tragic life worthy of a mystery series itself
A dark cloud hovered over the German actress, despite her marriage to a familiar face from Little House on the Prairie.
In March of 1967, The Guns of Will Sonnett was on its last legs. The Western neared the finish line of its brief two-season run when it aired "One Angry Juror." The episode told a rather standard courtroom drama leading up to a bloody ending. Young Jeff Sonnett (Dack Rambo) guns down the killer right in front of the witness stand.
But the one notable thing in this episode is not the plot — it is the actress sitting on the witness stand.
Susanne Cramer portrayed a Swede named Christine Anderson. Born and raised in German, Cramer was typecast in European roles thanks to her accent. "One Angry Juror" would also give her one final opportunity to act in a series alongside her husband, fellow actor Kevin Hagen, another guest star in that episode.
However, she would never see the episode. She had died two months earlier in mysterious circumstances.
Before we delve into her demise, let's rewind to 1967. The Newsday press service ran a syndicated column in newspapers across America about the libertine German entertainment scene. The wild Berlin jet-set — or "lebendige lust (living joy) crowd," as the reporter wrote — was scandalous enough to attract the attention of readers in Oakland. Because there was another dead starlet in the story.
"The death of Renate Ewert turned the spotlight on [the German scene] for a moment," it said. The "dark-haired, fine-boned" actress with an "explosive temperament" was 31 and had landed several roles as a bad girl. The writer titillatingly detailed how she enjoyed going shopping in a "leopard coat and nothing else."
More heavy stuff for the morning papers: "They found her surrounded by her stuffed animals and dolls, crumpled on the rug beside her bed, after she had been dead for five days."
Only, it wasn't a "they" who discovered the corpse; it was her close friend Susanne Cramer.
Some reports claim that Ewert had been dead for up to three weeks. Some reports claim that she had died of starvation. Whatever the case, the ordeal was bizarre and tragic.
A dark cloud hovered over those closest to Renate Ewert. Her father killed himself a year later. Her mother followed shortly thereafter, poisoning herself. And Cramer would pass away in early 1969.
But the dark cloud had been there all along. "The had already been 11 sleeping-pill suicides in the living joy crowd," that Newsday article explained. Cramer herself had twice attempted suicide in 1957, a tumultuous year that also saw her divorce her husband of mere months, Hermann Nehlsen. She quickly remarried, to Helmuth Lohner. Then divorced him. Then remarried him. They split again.
It seemed as if Cramer had settled down a bit when she moved to Los Angeles and wed her third husband, Kevin Hagen.
Hagen had carved a successful career in Hollywood playing Western baddies. Later, he shifted gears dramatically, finding a comfortable pigeonhole as a kindly doctor, most memorably Dr. Hiram Baker on Little House on the Prairie.
Hagen and Cramer met working together on Perry Mason, in the mystery "The Case of the Fugitive Fraulein." Cramer played the killer, in what was her second appearance on the show. Around the same time, she popped up on Get Smart, My Favorite Martian, Hogan's Heroes, The Rat Patrol, and other shows, often playing a German character.
In late 1968, Cramer entered a "private clinic" in Hollywood. It was reported that she died there of pneumonia. Rumors surfaced of medical malpractice, but oddly we could find no official obituary published in 1969. Searching the internet and newspaper archives proves rather fruitless, beyond these scant claims and gossip. Her passing is a mystery suited for a Perry Mason case.
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I believe it was Hogan's Heroes I saw her on. The picture that I saw of her that was in the link embedded in the article, her eyes look very familiar to me. And here's something to chew on, all those "mysterious deaths" or suicides, maybe they weren't actually suicides?
Maybe these people were involved in something that caught the eye of the German secret police force, the Stasi? It's hard to believe that Renate dies in her apartment and no one knows how long she was dead for and then both her parents committed suicide afterwards? That's just a little hard to believe. And then what happened to Susanne Cramer?
The Stasi was Germany's KGB back then. Germans back then were very scared of the Stasi and of attracting their attention. Maybe this one group of people were targeted by the Stasi for living and supporting a lifestyle that they didn't approve of? Just some food for thought🖖.
The Gestapo was Hitler's own personal creation and it ceased to exist after World War 2. Look it up🖖.
I think you meant the episode aired in March of 69.
"Von Todessehnsucht getrieben nahm sie eine Überdosis Schlaftabletten. Gerade noch gerettet wurde sie in eine Privatklinik eingeliefert, wo ihr Ehemann sie rund um die Uhr bewachen ließ. In einem unachtsamen Moment riss sie sich selbst den lebenserhaltenden Schlauch aus dem Körper und starb."
"Driven by longing for death, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. She was just rescued to a private clinic, where her husband had her guarded around the clock. In a careless moment, she tore the life-support tube out of her body and died."
"Die offizielle Version der Familie der Schauspielerin war, dass Susanne Cramer am 7. Januar 1969 an einer Lungenentzündung verstarb."
"The official version of the actress's family was that Susanne Cramer died of pneumonia on January 7, 1969."
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