Suzette Winter, who documented Hollywood’s Golden Age, dies at 90
Suzette Winter Feldman, who wrote and produced a series of more than 30 documentaries chronicling the life of Hollywood’s biggest stars, often rendering them in the golden light of Hollywood’s heyday, died Dec. 1 at her home in Sleepy Hollow, New York. She was 90.
Her daughter Zara Janson said the cause was aspiration pneumonia.
Winter, who used her birth name professionally, worked with her husband, Gene Feldman, to create rosy film portraits of Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Shirley Temple and many others under the rubric "The Hollywood Collection.”
As a team — she as a co-writer and co-producer while he also directed — they earned an Emmy nomination in 1994 for “Audrey Hepburn Remembered” (1993). “She’s projected as a three-dimensional personality — a person, in fact — under the cover girl face,” The Boston Globe wrote of the film’s portrayal of Hepburn.
The documentaries used archival footage, interviews with co-stars and, if possible, conversations with the subjects themselves. Hollywood actors and actresses often narrated them — Jessica Lange, for instance, in “Vivien Leigh: Scarlett and Beyond” (1990).
Films from "The Hollywood Collection" aired on PBS and major cable networks, including Lifetime, TNT and HBO’s Cinemax.
The couple made no bones about the laudatory nature of their work. “Our main interest is not to do a biography but rather to look at the achievement of that person and give insight into the magic of that person,” Feldman told The Journal-News of White Plains, New York, in 1987. The couple befriended some of their subjects, including Liza Minnelli and Gregory Peck.
Their documentary treatment extended even to canine stars. “The Story of Lassie” (1994) explored the legacy of television and film’s favorite — and most consistently profitable — collie.
New York Times critic John J. O’Connor called the Lassie film “a fond tribute to the movie and television character that, arguably, projected most consistently the mistily hallowed virtues of purity and innocence, the triumph of good and courage rewarded.”
Suzette St. John Winter was born Jan. 19, 1931, in London to Ralph and Marguerite (St. John) Winter. Her father was an electrician, her mother a postal worker.
As a child during the Blitz of London in World War II, she and her three siblings were evacuated under Operation Pied Piper, which removed millions of children from the city to the English countryside. She went to live with a great-aunt on a farm in Surrey and was separated from her parents for the better part of six years.
After returning to London, she attended art school for a year, worked in Paris as an au pair and worked odd jobs after returning to London.
She married Leo Grimpel, an architecture student whom she had met in London, in 1952. They had two daughters, Zara and Stephanie. With Grimpel, she moved to Australia, then Hong Kong. They divorced in 1966.
Returning to Australia with her daughters after the divorce, Winter met Feldman there; he had been making educational documentaries and was filming one about the Maori people of New Zealand at the time. They married in 1967 and moved to the United States.
In 1977, they released “Danny,” a feature film about a girl and her horse. Winter wrote the script and later a novelization of the film. They began the Hollywood series in 1982 with “Hollywood’s Children,” a history of child actors, and ended it in 1999.
The couple lived in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, and later moved to Manhattan. After Feldman’s death in 2006, Winter moved to a retirement community in Sleepy Hollow.
She attended Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, New York, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1973. In 1976, she earned a master’s degree from Manhattanville College, in Westchester County, studying humanities.
"The Hollywood Collection" documentaries are still in circulation, with commercial distribution rights owned by Janson Media, an entertainment company run by Winter’s daughter Zara and her husband, Stephen Janson.
In addition to Janson, Winter is survived by her other daughter, Stephanie Edelstein; a stepdaughter, Lynne Feldman; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.