Childhood Thanksgivings were a wild ride for actress Susan Sullivan. Best known for her extensive television career that includes starring roles in shows such as “Falcon Crest,” “Castle,” and “Dharma and Greg,” Sullivan is keen to offer advice and encouragement based on her own experiences.
"My father was a drinker, so our family holidays were usually a bit chaotic,” said Sullivan from her home in Los Angeles. “From raised voices, tipped over wine glasses, and a turkey falling on the floor, there aren’t a lot of calm memories to share. But dull they weren’t.”
She hopes to encourage others to explore and resolve their own often-difficult family relationships.
“While we should acknowledge our parents for their positive role in our lives, very often we need to forgive a parent for what they didn’t give us,” she said. “Has the relationship enriched you or has it created an obstacle for you? Even people in their 70s and 80s may be still unable to forgive the shortcomings of a parent, a sibling or even the slights from a former spouse.”
Resentments, she says, can be the biggest killers of love and Sullivan advises to just “let them go.”
The actress also has advice for people still struggling during the pandemic, again based on her own experience after confronting a personal crossroad after the pandemic hit.
“Part of my brain told me to just collapse into myself — stay home, sleep late, and reread my favorite books,” she recalled. “But another part urged me to remain engaged with friends and to keep my mind active. Fortunately, I listened to myself — and trust me, I don’t always. That’s why I tweet a little sliver of advice each day with the hope that it will uplift others as well as myself” (twitter.com/realssullivan).
During the past year, she chose to take the "keep busy road," acting when possible including a role in the upcoming Joanna Gleason written and directed movie “The Grotto.” And earlier in the year, Sullivan wrote and acted in “What Friends Do (#Expendables)” for Smartphone Theatre, a livestream digital performance platform presented via Zoom and created during the early pandemic months (free to watch at smartphonetheatre.com).
During the 25-minute episode, the characters (portrayed by Sullivan, plus Kathryn Leigh Scott, Mitchell Ryan, and David Selby) banter back and forth with Sullivan’s art-imitating-life character offering advice aplenty. "I wrote this play about being a senior and getting back into life,” she explained.
This coming Nov. 25, however, there’s one aspect of life Susan isn’t planning to embrace: Thanksgiving cooking — also a theme echoed in a 1999 episode of “Dharma and Greg” called Thanksgiving Until it Hurts.
“Kitty (her extravagant and lovingly manipulative character) tried to be a little more involved with Thanksgiving and cooked the turkey which, of course, was a disaster,” she recalled. “I could identify with that — trying to be the cook that I am not. Somehow in my wiring, it got crisscrossed in the cooking area and maybe my mother is to blame — she wanted it to be so perfect that it became loaded with stress for me. I’d rather order in! So, I won’t be basting the turkey, but I’ll have my hand in everything else — setting the table, putting out flowers, changing my outfit five times. I like doing all that.”
Turning 79 the week before Thanksgiving, Sullivan remains a busy and respected actor. She shares a final tip to inspire others by describing what gets her up and going each day.
“It’s basically three things,” she said. “I need to have something to do, something to love and something to hope for. These, and a good cup of coffee, and I’m good for a few hours before my first nap.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, in Alabama, and has written features, columns and interviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. See getnickt.org.
This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Tinseltown Talks: Memories and advice from actress Susan Sullivan