As television has become more prominent in our society, a new generation of writers has emerged -- television scriptwriters. Yellow Springs resident Suzanne Clauser is one of that industry's pioneers; her career, after all, was built on a series of scripts she wrote for the classic TV western, Bonanza.
Suzanne Phillips was born and raised in a suburb just outside New York City, called New Rochelle. She traveled to Indiana University for college, receiving a bachelor's degree in American and British Literature in 1951. While there, she met Charles Clauser, "a graduate student finishing a degree in physical anthropology." They married the same year she graduated, and Suzanne took a research assistantship in the university's economics department.
When Charles received a Fulbright grant in 1954, the couple moved to south central Asia. They lived in Rangoon and Burma for just under a year, then returned to the States and settled in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Suzanne Clauser resumed her assistantship for Indiana University, where she worked until 1957.
Her career as a writer began when, in the early 1960s, she published "a travel reminiscence of India" in a British Literary journal. Shortly afterward, with encouragement from Twilight Zone creator and scriptwriter Rod Serling (whom she met when he taught a course at nearby Antioch college), Clauser sold her first script to the classic western television series, Bonanza. By 1966, she was a regular supplier of scripts for the show; Clauser sold thirteen before the series was cancelled in 1972. Still in the "western" mode, Clauser wrote the script for a television play entitled Pioneer Woman; in 1974, it won her the Western Heritage Award for best Television Western - Fiction.
The same year Bonanza ended, she published her first novel, A Girl Named Sooner, about a lonely and unloved young girl who finds solace in nature: "Bird screeched to her from amidst the thorns, and beat his black wings so that the red and then the white beneath flickered. Sooner gave a little giggle and moved close to him. 'Stuck, ain't you! I keep tellin you, Bird. I only could fix that broke wing pretty good. Not real good. You can get up in such places, but you can't get down again.'"
Clauser's extensive scriptwriting background made her a natural choice when producers wanted to convert the book into a made-for-TV-movie. The 1975 feature was a success, receiving "very high ratings as well as endorsements from the National Educational Association and the National Council of Churches."
Also in 1975, Clauser won an award for "Best Television Drama" from The Population Institute, for The Family Nobody Wanted.
Clauser's scriptwriting career continued through 1981 and included an adaptation of Little Women; she eventually returned to novel-writing, though, publishing both her second, East of Mandalay, and third, The Glad Season, in 2000.
Clauser currently serves on the Board of The Antioch Writers' Workshop, which she founded to support other writers.
Photos courtesy of Suzanne Clauser.