The Sue Williams / Sue Hamilton mystery

Sue Hamilton Magazine Super Face

Update here (August 2017).

Sue Williams, also known as Sue Hamilton, Playboy Playmate and beach party movie actress, WAS NOT Karen Sue (Levitt) Hamilton, who died by suicide in 1969.

Who was the actress who played “Peanuts” in How To Stuff a Wild Bikini? And what happened to her after her final film appearance in Fireball 500 (1966)?

Please comment below or send information to hillard_elkins@ Discretion assured.

According to her original Playboy feature,

Sue has spent the past 19 years blossoming in the healthy California clime. Born and raised in Glendale… she graduated from high school last June.

Her birthday is given as May 13, and her birth year works out to be 1945.

“Raised in Glendale” makes sense: her sister was an artist employed at Figge Photographic Studio, then located in Glendale. Photographers Bill and Melba Figge submitted one of their photos of Sue Williams to Hugh Hefner. In a 2005 interview, Melba Figge said,

We sent the first [photo] in … and Hugh Hefner said, “She’s really 
cute. We’d like to see your work.”

They were then contracted to shot the Miss April 1965 pictorial. Sue Williams was the first of 48 centerfolds that Bill and Melba Figge shot for Playboy magazine.

Melba Figge told the story a little differently in The Playmates Book, published in 1996 (thank you to D.R.Haney for the reference):

“She came into our studio to have a glamorous picture taken, because she was sick and tired of going to the firehouse and opening her husband’s locker and seeing centerfolds inside. She had an adorable face, the type Hef likes. So we said, ‘Why don’t you try out for Playboy? Then when the issue comes out you can put it in his locker.’ She did and he was flabbergasted. Sue used her Playmate money to get a boob job, and then she was in several beach movies. I haven’t seen her in 20 years.” (page 108)

There was a Sue Williams pictured in the 1957 Glendale High School Yearbook who looks similar to the Playboy model:


If she is the same Sue Williams, her senior year would be 1959, not 1964, and her birth year around 1941. The similarity fades in her senior photo.

Although she was quoted in Playboy as not having academic aspirations, could this be Sue Williams in the San Jose State College Year Book 1964?


This Sue Williams graduated from San Leandro High School, San Leandro in 1963 (bottom left photo):

Sue Williams San Leandro High School Senior 1963

When a researcher tracked her down to a north-western state in 2015, the 70-year old grandmother politely denied ever having appeared in a movie and wished the researcher well in the quest for the actress-model Sue Williams.

It’s possible that her name, age, birthday, and hometown were all invented by Playboy magazine, just as Spanish-born and Detroit-educated Maria McBane (Miss May 1965) was given “Avignon, France” as a home town and Ohio-born Laura Lynn Hale was remade into English beauty Ashlyn Martin (Miss July 1963 – probably to sound like James Bond’s favoured British car-maker, Aston Martin). Even Playboy stopped believing its April 1965 text, changing Sue Williams’ birthdate to 14 November on its website.

Karen Sue Hamilton

IMDB, Find-A-Grave and most other online sources (even, now identify Sue Williams with Karen Sue Hamilton, buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery:

NOV. 14, 1945 – SEPT. 2, 1969
She looked for the best in others
and gave the best she had.

Sue Hamilton suehamilton2

This Karen Sue Hamilton was born Karen Susan Levitt in Queens, New York, grew up in Tuscon Arizona, married architecture student Kenneth Mayer in Tucson in June 1964, did “some professional modelling” and, by 1969, was living alone in Los Angeles, under the surname Hamilton, when she committed suicide with shotgun blast to the chest at 2am.

The source for identifying the actress with Karen Sue Hamilton is the book Who Was Who on Screen by Evelyn Mack Truitt (New York: R.R. Bowker, 3rd Edition, 1983):


Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen removed the references to Arizona Karen Sue (Levitt) Hamilton after being contacted by her brother, Greg, who stated that his sister did NOT pose for Playboy and was 5’10” tall, towering above the famously petite 4’11 actress and model.

This wedding photo of Karen Sue in the Tucson Daily Citizen 15 June 1964 clearly shows that she was not the model and actress Sue Williams/Hamilton:


After The Movies

Sue William’s final appearance in a film was the opening scene of Fireball 500 (1966) as the “farmer’s daughter.”

Sue Hamilton Fireball 500 Original 8x10

Significantly, this was also the final film for AIP of director William Asher. According to Thomas Lisanti, Sue Williams was a particular favourite of Asher (at the time married to Bewitched‘s Elizabeth Montgomery but a notorious philanderer) and perhaps her entire acting career, like her one word line in How To Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), was due to him.

Sue Williams’ career as a model was limited to her one Playboy pictorial and promotions for AIP movies, syndicated worldwide to newspapers and magazines: Starlets Seek Natural Look (August 1965), Use Makeup The Professional Way (February 1966), Cool Office Hints and Office Coolers (July – August 1966). Some of these ran as late as 1967 in small town newspapers.

She was not the only “face of Sheer Magic” – as suggested elsewhere. “Super Face” was a promotion for Fireball 500 (1966) featuring both Patti Chandler and Sue Hamilton:

Then in September 1966, Sue Williams, Playboy Playmate, reappeared at the Anaheim store of Cotler’s Gentlemen’s Outfitters:

After that, there is nothing on the public record except for the incorrect entry in Who Was Who On Screen and the ensuing internet confusion with the short, tragic life of a tall young Jewish woman from Tucson, Arizona.

Why did author Evelyn Mack Truitt make this mistake? Perhaps she heard from a reliable source that AIP actress Sue Hamilton had committed suicide, searched the Los Angeles register of deaths and assumed she’d found the right person.

Playboy does not actively keep in contact with former Playmates. Unlike AIP Playmates Marianne Gaba and Jo Collins, Sue Williams did not attend the 1979 Playmate reunion at the Playboy Mansion:

It’s not particularly unusual for an actress or a Playboy model to vanish. Both Playboy and the internet have lost contact with Mary Warren, covergirl for Playboy June 1966 and Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend for four years (1964 – 68). The origin and fate of beach party and ski bunny actress Linda Rogers is unknown. Valora Noland (Animal in Muscle Beach Party 1964), despite her unique name, has faded into anonymity.

Someone who worked on How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) and admits they weren’t close to Sue Williams, remembers her as a Playboy Bunny who came from out of town, drove a pick-up and had a toddler and a boyfriend or husband – Mr Hamilton perhaps? If the person’s recollection is accurate, then perhaps Sue Williams / Hamilton is enjoying retirement with children, grandchildren and memories of her brief career on the sandy edges of sixties Hollywood.

Sue Hamilton How ladder

28 Comments Add yours

  1. aitchcs says:

    Standing O for your work on this. Hopefully the internet will catch up to these latest findings. I posted your last one on Sue in IMDB.

    1. Hillard Elkins says:

      Hi H. Slavic, thank you! By the way, I love your blog.

    2. Hillard Elkins says:

      Thanks also for posting to IMDB. I tried and failed to post on the Sue HWilliams / Hamilton IMDB discussion board.

  2. TODD OLSON says:


    1. aitchcs says:

      I am hopeful! We’d love to hear from her or about her!

  3. aitchcs says:

    I do have to wonder about the decision of Ms. Leavitt ‘s family to bury her under her- not often used modeling name, but who knows people’s motivations and reasons.

  4. Duke says:

    I wrote the “Playboy in the Dark” piece that you quote in the other Sue Williams/Hamilton thread, and I’ll be correcting it sooner than later. This is the second time I’ve misreported something based on an Internet source, and I’m really irked at myself. I must say, I was surprised when I first heard about the suicide of Sue Williams, since it wasn’t mentioned in “The Playmate Book,” which was was published in 1996 and presented updates on many Playmates, and no mention was made of Sue Williams’ suicide, unlike other Playmate suicides and even murders. The author of “The Playmate Book” spoke with Melba Figge, who said this of Sue Williams: “She came into our studio to have a glamorous picture taken, because she was sick and tired of going to the firehouse and opening her husband’s locker and seeing centerfolds inside. She had an adorable face, the type Hef likes. So we said, ‘Why don’t you try out for Playboy? Then when the issue comes out you can put it in his locker.’ She did and he was flabbergasted. Sue used her Playmate money to get a boob job, and then she was in several beach movies. I haven’t seen her in 20 years.” I thought it weird that Melba Figge wouldn’t have somehow heard of Sue Williams’ death, but I decided the suicide story must be true, since I kept coming across it online and even saw a photo of the gravestone. Anyway, thank you for throwing some light on this matter. Yes, I would presume that “Hamilton” was Sue’s firefighter husband, who may even have been photographed alongside her for Playboy ( with no idea as to where the pictures would end up. On the other hand, it’s best not to presume anything, as I should know by now.

    1. aitchcs says:

      Looks like Evelyn Mack Truitt assumed the Hamilton suicide was the same woman and it has been repeated as truth on the internet. Tom Lisanti one of the great chroniclers of the actresses of this era, writes about the suicide woman as probably Sue, but states there is no solid confirmation.

      1. Duke says:

        Was “Karen Sue Hamilton” the modeling name of Karen Levitt Mayer, or did she marry again after divorcing Mayer? Also, could it be that Sue Williams’ surname was in fact a Playmate pseudonym? A pseudonym seems likely for a young wife in 1965, and even more likely if she was a mother, as she may already have been she posed for Playboy.

    2. Hillard Elkins says:

      Hi Duke, I really enjoy your writing in ‘The Nervous Breakdown’ ( Your narative is too strong to be waylaid by one little factual ambiguity. I’m into beach movies more than Playboy but I’m intrigued by the range of Sue Williams photos online. For example, in the photo on the page above the extended quote from your article (btw hope that’s OK), Sue Williams definitely has breast implants – did she do two Playboy shoots? Thanks for reading and stay creative.

      1. Duke says:

        We were posting comments at the same moment! Yes, Sue Williams did at least two shoots for Playboy, and you’ll notice that she didn’t show her breasts in the centerfold, probably because Hefner or the Figges or all of them decided that she was too flat-chested. I believe another Playmate from the following year, Lisa Baker, also used her Playmate money on implants; like Sue Williams, her breasts weren’t shown in her centerfold (which was also photographed by the Figges), and in her encore pictorial as Playmate of the Year, her very visible breasts didn’t lose their shape in reclining poses.

        Thanks very much for what you say about the Playboy/Hefner piece. I wrote it for an essay collection that will also include a piece about the surfer Miki Dora, so I’ll get more into beach-party movies there. All of the essays in the book will be about Los Angeles and movies in one way or another — even the one I wrote about Lee Harvey Oswald. Alas, I haven’t had time to make a decent start on the Miki Dora piece. Oh, and of course it’s okay for you to quote from anything I write — I was flattered to see the Playboy piece quoted here.

  5. aitchcs says:

    Look forward to your essay collection Duke. I also noticed the “noticeable”
    difference in breast size in Sue’s various Playboy photos online. I think this must have been the very very earliest days of breast implants. Sue Williams was her name for Playboy only.

  6. Dale Ealey says:

    Thank you all so much! I kept posting about this on imdb several years ago, and except for this last year had been pretty active e-mailing folks and hoping someone would get to the bottom of this. When talking with the gentleman who had her death cert and her hight was listed as 5’10” i knew the game was afoot. I talked to Woody Anders about correcting the imdb info (he’s their most prolific poster), he said he really didn’t have time to get involved. Glad to see that other folks have taken notice and have gotten involved. And am really glad that this beautiful young lady didn’t end her life. B/t/w she’s the one that Mickey Rooney “coped a feel” from when he ran his finger up her breast! (When he asked her who her name might be and she said “Peanut!”) The dog!

  7. Kim Reynolds says:

    First off, your “The Sue Williams/Sue Hamilton Mystery” story is amazing. A few years back I discovered the name Sue Williams via both Playboy and the Beach movies. Like most, I was sad of her supposed death and found out she was buried at Forrest Lawn by my work. I’m a graver on Find a Grave so it was natural for me to visit the site. It was slightly overgrown with grass so I trimmed it back and took some photos. There wasn’t a ground urn, for flowers, so I went to the main office and had one placed in the ground under her plaque. I occasionally put flowers in the urn from time to time the last few years to pay my respect to a fallen Bunny, I thought. I even went as far as ordering a copy of her 2 page death certificate to find out how she died. I was shocked! The web sites, at that time, didn’t have that information. Everything you wrote about is in the certificate except that she is listed as and Actress for 2 years prior to her death for MGM. If you don’t have a copy I can scan this one and send it to you. With any luck the real “Peanut” will surface. What an interview that would be!
    ~ Kim Reynolds

  8. Dale Ealey says:

    And her a year after I last looked this just keeps on getting better and better. I just hope before I pass that the lady is finally located and/or we find out what became of her. B/t/w I had heard that Playboy kept a data base of all their Playmates addresses in order to notify them of upcoming events, but that it was strictly voluntary on the Playmates part. Is this not true? Thanks, and it looks like the folks involved with “Find-a-death” are on this too. Your efforts are just soooo much more complete and encompassing. Thanks again for all you do!

  9. Dear H. Slavic
    Wow, what a story! I just discovered it and I’d like to say Sue Williams, Miss April 1965 remains to this day, my all-time favorite Playboy Playmate. It broke my heart when I read years ago that she’d killed herself and I have been haunted by her ever since. Are you SURE she’s still alive? Please keep me and us fans of her’s advised.

    Peter A. Marshall

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