Meeting Susan Mauntel is not a simple “how do you do.” I needed only to lock eyes with Susan to unleash an unstoppable swirl of joie de vivre which bubbled continuously throughout our visit.
Prior to walking into what she calls her “nest” on the 14th floor, I had an inkling she was going to be something. When I had called earlier I couldn’t help but respond to and engage with her voice mail message, as her high-fidelity recorded voice welcomed my call and explained, “Have I got a story for you!” And, indeed, she did!
Susan was raised in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, part of metro Philadelphia, and counts Elvis as her first interview subject while she was still in high school. After graduation she flew west to study art and journalism at the University of Colorado, never again to live on the east coast.
Those early adult years after college, Susan admits, were without direction. “I had no plan, so I spent some time as a ski-bum in Aspen and then served as a hostess at the Seattle World’s Fair.” Soon after, she found her way down to San Francisco where she made her living as a model and actress, mostly in TV commercials. Her story about playing an extra in a party scene with Janis Joplin in the movie Petulia (1968) starring Julie Christie, George C. Scott and Richard Chamberlain was a good reminder of how grueling that work can be!
You can imagine that living in San Francisco during the years of the hippies and the ‘Summer of Love’ would be quite exciting for a beautiful young woman. Yet Susan says with a big grin, “I was not a hippie and I only attended the first ‘Love In’.”
Susan’s successful modeling career allowed her to travel and she eventually moved down the coast of California and Los Angeles became her home base. In the 1970s, she was ready to try new things and, like Helen Reddy, let the world “hear me roar!”
“No matter how successful you are, in modeling you are always ‘the girl’,” Susan shared. “I knew I had to get out of modeling before my brain atrophied!” That’s when she simply started calling on TV news producers, asking for an audition. She had no training in broadcast journalism, but simply watching what happened on air, she figured she would fake it until she made it.
Susan got her first chance as a news reporter interviewing celebrities and then a daily live talk show in San Diego. Then she was back to San Francisco with a magazine format TV show, and once again to LA co-anchoring the news on KTLA.
My mind blurs trying to remember the long list of high profile celebrities, artists, and leaders that Susan has had the pleasure of talking with in-depth. The walls of fame in her home are the clues to many, many stories, I am sure!
In telling her tales, Susan’s voice and facial expressions help paint the picture of both her hard work to excel in these fields and a seemingly carefree life. “I was a Road Scholar!” she laughed, with gleam in her eye. “Like a rolling stone, but I always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
Yet when asked, she admits she’s had her fair share of heartbreaks. “I know now that God has had his hand on me all along the way,” she confides. In fact, she went on to explain, at each major transition there was usually some unexpected sign that cleared the way for her. Susan calls these serendipitous moments “God winks.”
One of those God winks led her to let go of the stress-filled life of TV broadcasting and take up something completely different. Real estate! But, with a high-end twist. Her first listing was the Pacific Palisades home of President-elect Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy.
Real estate was a passing fancy, though, and she was soon back in Aspen with a TV job. By then, her early and deep love for art was calling to her in a loud voice. Susan soon transitioned into the life of a successful, working, self-sufficient artist with a studio and gallery in Aspen called Furniture as Art, as well as in Solana Beach, California.
Those were 18 glorious years during which she created and sold hundreds of memorable paintings on chairs, tables, screens, etc. Susan specialized in recreating in the style of masters such as Matisse and Monet. One day, a passing tourist in Aspen admired her copy of Matisse’s portrait of his daughter on a chair. A brief conversation revealed that tourist to be Matisse’s grandson, Claude Duthuit, who Susan quickly befriended.
Leaving that home behind to shift to urban Denver and five winters in Naples, Florida, Susan was feeling the pull of sun and sand in her next chapter. She found Naples beautiful, but yearned for a livelier cultural scene, which, of course, led her to Sarasota, Florida’s cultural capital.
She arrived in Sarasota in December 2013 armed with a list of communities she had identified from her online research. One look at Plymouth Harbor, it was another “God wink.” Susan fell in love with the people and that perfect little corner apartment and view on the 14th floor. “I’ve always been a little impulsive,” she confides. “I made my decision in January and by July 2014, I had sold my Denver property and was moving into Plymouth Harbor.”
Susan’s home now is an installation of her life as art. In addition to walls of photos capturing her modeling and TV career, I saw the full expression of her life and talents on each piece of customized furniture, choice of accent, and countless quirky personal touches. Her sweet long-haired miniature dachshund, Moki, a faithful furry companion, completes the home.
As comfortable as this nest is, Susan is truly a rolling stone who has already accumulated a host of friends and activities, including performances as an evocative story reader for a range of audiences. Her role in the Plymouth Harbor Players production of “The Saint on the 17th Floor” is only a taste of what she might bring in the future.
In fact, that wide-eyed wonder of what the future might bring is one of the most memorable qualities that Susan shared with me during our visit. Her joy and faith are contagious. In fact, I can’t wait until the next time we meet when, I am certain, she will greet me in her ebullient way, “Boy! Have I got a story for you!”