Sue Oakland

sue-oakland-6The name of the post is the name of the subject and with all due respect to the lady in question, is pretty uninspiring, compared to, say, other posts about the Priory of Sion, Geert Wilders, famous fighter aeroplanes of WW2, Boris Johnson and so on.

And to make it worse, she appears to have led a quiet life of blameless bourgeois domesticity, to employ a quasi-Borisian expression, himself maybe a more interesting topic. But in choosing her, there must be some trick up the sleeve and there is.

Initially meant to be a quick post on the yet-to-be-resolved enigma about this woman, the further into her the exploration went, the broader the terms became. It started at American Thinker on Friday, seeing this heading:

Mayor of Oakland warns against ‘scapegoating’ lavishly paid city employees who failed to inspect deathtrap warehouse in 30 years

Naturally, the mind then wandered over to Sue Oakland, the occasional star of the 60s panel show What’s My Line:

And the immediate thought, in trying to research her, is how the internet lets us down. Finding material on her was a chore. IMDb had some:

Susan Oakland was born as Suzanne Oksman. She has been married to Lester Wunderman since December 26, 1975. She was previously married to Ted Cott. In the 1970s, she delivered editorials for WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York under the name Sue Cott.

Nothing unusual in a woman taking her husband’s name in those days and she did so professionally in her editorials but then she bridled, in the second clip above [screenshot below], when the producer of the show, who’d come on at the start as a novelty panelist, used her married surname Cott and she corrected him to Oakland.

sue-oakland-4

Just why she wished to be Oakland when her name had been Oksman, a more interesting name, is something only she can answer – she’s still around, see pic below right.

First hubby eventually died and in her choice of the subsequent one, she seemed to carry on this predilection for the older man, something I’m not averse to and one warms to the lass. As far as anyone can tell, she was a good wife, the only thing distinguishing her being the university PhD, which did not go down well with the luvvies on the panel, particularly the women and in particular, the main one, Arlene Francis, a ‘star of stage and screen’.

Which brings in an interesting thought on intelligence. She was as sharp as a tack, not a question, sharp of tongue, sharp of jawline, and yet it was the luvvy Arlene Francis who got most of the answers right.

Which does raise questions about the show itself – just how one panelist suddenly knew who the guest was and called it, despite no real evidence at that moment for that call. Naturally, the programme moderator put it down to the brilliance of the panelist in question, almost always … Arlene Francis or Bennett Cerf.  Hmmmm. But to be fair, once Sue Oakland made the inspired leap too.

Wiki adds, via the write up on second hubby, Wunderman, apparently the starter of that gauche direct marketing:

He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of Wunderman. He lives in New York City and the South of France with his wife Dr. Sue Cott (born Suzanne Oksman in 1935) who, in the 1950s and 1960s, appeared in many TV shows, including What’s My Line, as Sue Oakland, and for many years afterward, was Director of Editorials for WCBS-TV in New York.

sue-oakland-later

Which tells us something about her choices, her tastes. Many commenters on other clips – she’d improved in the ones above – mention her ‘tent’ dress or ‘shower curtain’, her idea of high fashion.

She also had this habit of wearing her enormous mask during the celebrity segment skewed on her face and neither she realized, nor anyone attempted to tell her.

I’d not apply the term ‘gauche’ nor ‘uncultured’ but she seemed to display the awareness of the outside world of an ivy tower [sic] college professor.

And that brings in Leonard Cohen’s ‘there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. Our Susie was sufficiently flawed and yet a ‘happy puppy, eager to please’, to the point one warmed to her … and hundreds of youtube watchers, male, did warm to her, very much so.

Here are fairly typical viewers’ comments

# Sue Oakland continues to impress not only with her beauty but her intelligence. She would have made a wonderful full time replacement for Dorothy K [the panellist who was murdered].

# Ah, the mystery that is Sue Oakland. This is her 5th, 6th (?) panel visit. All we know from intros in her previous WML appearances is that she is a Columbia Ph.D who happens to look good. Uh-huh … My online search turns up nada. Who is this woman, and how did she get on this show? Floor’s open …

# She does a really good job, but how in the hell did she ever get her foot in the door to appear on these shows? She seems to have [had] no celebrity status. Everyone else is introduced as a comedian, actor, etc., but she’s always just “pretty and a doctoral candidate at Columbia”. One of life’s great mysteries!

# Can’t find anything on sue oakland… she was quite beautiful and looks somewhat familiar, but i haven’t a clue what she may have done.

# Join the crowd. She’s quite an enigma. No one seems to have any idea what her qualifications are that gives her the celebrity status to sit on this panel. We are only told she’s pretty and smart and that’s the extent of it.

# Just a guess, but she may have been simply a “rich socialite” with connections.

# You could be right, but with all of the information available out there on the internet you’d think we’d be able to find more about her than what we have.

However, there always does have to be one:

# There’s something about Sue Oakland that makes me want to retch. I can’t stomach her. Who in blazes is she?

The two who were least gallant towards her were the panel moderator, Daly, and Ms Francis, who was actually married to a key communist of the time and therefore taking one’s husband’s name was not the done thing, something Ms Oakland sometimes did, sometimes did the opposite of.

Were that it, then it would indeed be uninspiring, no matter how ‘pretty’ or ‘beautiful’ she was.

The topic broadens

For me though, she taps into something which goes all the way back to my fourth year on this planet and a certain girlfriend of the time who had many of the characteristics of Ms Oakland, not least that look.

the-fair-haired-type

When I was at the dentist yesterday, there was a BBC programme with this woman [above right] on it – I caught her name, Agnes Poirier, she’s French. I know nothing of her nor wish to but her facial outline immediately registered somewhere in the brain.

Yep, that is the physical type I’ve always been associated with through my life. We all have ideals in women, women have in men, sometimes not even consciously, but this is not about ideals, she would not be my ideal – this is about the type we’re most used to.

Both WN1 and WN2 in my case were different types and yet the Sue Oakland I’ve had most to do with through life – my ex-gf – was of that body type.

To describe this body type further, there is nothing which really distinguishes her – for example, with Ms Oakland, could you name any outstanding feature about her?  Her legs? Nah. Her chestal area, as Woody Allen was wont to say? Nah. Well her shape then? Nah, she has none – she’s slender and straight.

I did say once to my ex-gf, when pressed – that it is no one part, it is the combination of the whole and not just the physical.

Even prettiness is variable, in that from some angles and with some expressions, Ms Sue certainly is gorgeous but on others, e.g. the way she speaks out of the corner of her mouth at an angle, she’s not.

One really has to go beyond the physical and look at other things – the human behind it, the nature of the person … and the foibles.

Let me do a pen portrait of the main female character in my long book, it describes this far better. In this scene below, the main male character meets her for the first time and he becomes embarrassing. She had just entered the flat with the supplies she’d been asked by her boss to bring – he was laid up in bed with broken bones at the time:

She noted the mischievous eyes.

‘Bienvenue, Mademoiselle – ench-chante.’

Good, she liked that – yet she knew she was being scrutinized all the same.

Having removed her scarf in a flurry of unwinding and hung it up, it now fell down; she stared at it in shock for a second or two, immobile – the sheer temerity of the scarf to fall down like that – she broke free from herself and bobbed down, turning ever so slightly on the balls of her feet, picked up the scarf, rapidly wound it up and placed it on the hall table, removed and hung up her coat, holding it briefly on its peg – willing it not to fall down; satisfied, she spun round and bobbed down again to remove her boots, acutely conscious that he was drinking all of this in.

When the zip at the top of her right boot refused to budge, she frowned and cursed softly in French, making the situation worse and worse and worse, in a silent, slow-motion, Clouseau comedy of errors.

The flat was utterly, utterly silent other than for this.

‘Secours, Mademoiselle?’

‘Non, merci,’ her face scrunched up, as if that would release the zip.

There’s very much Leonard Cohen’s “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” about it. Some minutes later, she comes over and he starts to describe her to herself.

She now pulled the armchair up close to the recliner and by doing that, the skirt rode up just a little, enough to accentuate her thighs, which she knew fullwell, as she’d practised it often enough and he had to will his eyes away.

‘Continuez,’she said evenly.

‘The second unplanned thing was that you went red when you couldn’t undo your boot.’ She blushed again. ‘You show things you intend for me to see such as your thighs now,’ she blushed again, ‘and then there are things you detest, like blushing and they steal a man’s heart.’

‘Monsieur – Hugh – enough.’ She looked away.

‘I do see the Nicolette they all talk about, the haughty femme-fatale, the efficient head of Section but I also also see what I was not expecting – a person who cares, who can be anxious. That’s the Nicolette who has dismantled my defences.’

She just looked at him, not knowing how to reply. ‘You have finished?’

‘Your dress sense too – not loudly expensive, just beautifully cut and the colours very much you. You think things through, you take such care.’

She was lost for words, not a common occurrence for her.

Finally, she found them. ‘Monsieur, Hugh. I think you don’t know much about me if you think I am all those things. To everyone else, I am just Nicolette, who comes here, goes there, does this and fixes that. You pay me all those compliments, so why am I still alone?’

‘Because we have only just met.’

He’d not meant to say that and now looked down quickly, looked away. She just stared at him.

‘I … I have to … do some work.’


’D’accord.’

There’s not a lot more I can add. She’s 33 at that point of the book, same as Sue Oakland in one of the clips. But to come back to the ‘why am I still alone’ – this has always been a red flag for men, when a pretty woman is still alone. Sue Oakland never was, she seemed to be perma-married but Nicolette above was alone, and yet she was pretty enough.

The answer is a difficult one to identify and isolate. There is just something in the manner – is it the sharpness, the slight pushiness, the being ‘on top of everything in her own mind’ – which puts the man off. He wants to bonk her, let’s not put too fine a point on it, as with Susanna Hoffs, yet he goes vague when it comes to actually marrying her.

It’s not nagging or the shrewishness of Anne Boleyn, it’s not nasty habits or a complete disregard for her man, being totally into herself, it’s just something bewildering to her, some element she exudes and people prefer to drift away after a while. I know it well.

sue-oakland-7And that element intrigues me, as she certainly rubbed key members of that show up the wrong way. Was it a rich producer hubby pushing to have her on as a panelist and they resented it?

What was it?

She knew it and countered it with the contrived compliments laid on with a trowel. Bennett Cerf responded with a cumbersome counter-compliment about guests wanting to ‘date her after the show’ – remember she’s married.

That producer deliberately getting her name wrong was another case and there was a third I saw when the moderator, Daly, went into a spiel about her answer being – and he laid it on with a trowel himself – ‘what we would call, Miss Sue, in error’. To Daly, that was academic-speak and it was a putdown. You just don’t treat a lady that way.

So this turned a fairly ordinary appearance on a show into something a bit more intriguing, something many commenters picked up on.

When the mystery is finally uncovered

When someone intrigues through mystery, what does happen when the mystery is finally cleared away and the feet of clay can be seen?

It’s happened to me many a time, in fact, WN1 drew her self up to full height one day and said, ‘You’re so boring,’ as if this were a revelation; hell, I’ve known that since year dot but she’d clearly thought otherwise.

As for my side of it, the driving imperative was always to uncover the mystery the woman in focus has erected around herself, I just have to find out, exploring deep into darkest Africa. And the more elaborate her deception, the more intriguing and I can focus on nothing else but prising her open. No doubt many men are the same.

Once the mystery of our Sue finally lies exposed, just how interesting does she remain? For me she does, at least partly, hence this post, as she not only falls within that range I’ve always known, but she also has a certain ‘Nikkiness’ to her.

I’d love to speak to her two hubbies and see what they had to say.

11 comments for “Sue Oakland

  1. December 11, 2016 at 17:31

    Essentially repeats the other material:

    https://www.datalounge.com/thread/15029048–what-s-my-line-panelist-sue-oakland

    Oh I just discovered it – I’m currently watching every show Sue Oakland has been in and I just found out why Arlene Francis doesn’t like her – listen to Danny Kaye speak of her:

    https://youtu.be/jVx8jWUe2kI

  2. Greg
    May 14, 2018 at 13:19

    My thoughts similarly attenuated, all best thanks for the research!

  3. Greg
    May 14, 2018 at 13:46

    They were incredibly cool toward her even plain hateful -extraordinary! Today this would be called bullying. Snobbery is probably a better word. Poor girl.

    • May 14, 2018 at 14:00

      Yes and doesn’t our heart go out to her – every instinct in our gallant repertoire is triggered by that treatment.

  4. Greg
    May 14, 2018 at 14:09

    Of course in those days ageism was much in reverse, ie., eager young highly intelligent upstarts could easily be off-sided by a more sophisticated older ‘insider’ crowd. Whereas today the reverse is true where the young know-it-all inexperienced debutant is all the rage. Wisdom or experience is countered by a preference for youth or in australian vernacular ‘youf’.

    In my case and probably many others you were scolded by older generations for ones youthful know-it-all exuberance & inexperience when younger only to come full circle and realize and to know of complete disdain when one hit their early to mid 30’s by being regarded as well past ones use-by-date because of these new ageist policies set-up throughout the 1990’s.

  5. Greg
    May 14, 2018 at 14:23

    Mind you in saying that ive fallen in love with this old show (esp 50’s time period) and really love the regulars as snobby and patrician as they do come across esp for an aussie (particularly ‘john daly’ nevertheless a very charming individual).

  6. May 14, 2018 at 14:38

    Well yes, Greg, been following it for years – the oldworldly manners are nice. My two favourite episodes were Cyd Charisse and Yul Brynner.

    • May 14, 2018 at 15:02

      -so many wonderful shows actually i really cracked-up when they featured the artist salvador dali, so did john daly by the way, was extremely funny!

  7. Perry Janoski
    February 24, 2019 at 20:41

    Arlene Francis once revealed how she felt about itemizing a co-panelists credentials after Carol Channing gave an excessively long and “smarmy” introduction to Mark Goodson, one of WML’s producers. Francis’ co-panelist to the left on that show was Bennett Cerf. A bit bewildered by Channing’s worshipful “speech,” she introduced Cerf as the holder of an academic honorarium recently bestowed upon him by lesser-known American university. In the 1960s, America was obsessed with education as a means of social advancement. Many immigrant parents or grandparents relished the academic achievements of their children. No doubt Sue Oakland impressed someone in power who thought a PhD candidate was the equal of a seasoned performer. It’s also possible that someone in power mistakenly thought that Oakland might be a marketable placeholder for Dorothy Kilgallen, who was brilliant but not viewed to be pretty. This, of course, would have been a great insult to Kilgallen. And the insult would have been deeply felt by Francis and Daly. Oakland lacked wit, nuance, glamor, charm, grace, and talent. She was merely pretty and in-process of getting an advanced degree (In what? Does anybody know?) She properly had the longevity of a sparkler.

    • February 24, 2019 at 21:30

      That’s fair comment, she certainly had some failings, did Sue. Pleasant though.

  8. cupcake
    March 24, 2019 at 17:02

    to quote john patrick shanley, “what you don’t know about women is a lot.”

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