Family & Companions
An auburn-haired character player, Susan Ruttan perhaps is best remembered for her seven-year stint (1986-93) as the likable but less-than-brilliant good-hearted secretary Roxanne Melman on NBC's "L.A. Law."
Born Susan Dunsrud in Oregon, she was only two years old when her parents divorced and she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother. Following her high school graduation, she joined her mother in Southern California and soon married Green Beret Mel Ruttan who was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash three years after the wedding. The newly widowed Ruttan managed a bar for a while and took classes in costume design before eventually joining the acting company at the Staircase Repertory in Santa Cruz, California. Her professional stage debut came in a 1974 production of Lanford Wilson's play "The Hot l Baltimore" and over the next four years, Ruttan appeared in several other productions.
In 1979, she switched gears and joined the casting department at Universal Studios, but it wasn't too long before she was back on the other side, auditioning for -- and landing -- guest roles on TV episodics like the ABC sitcoms "Bosom Buddies" and "Best of the West." Ruttan segued to films with a bit part as a nurse in "Independence Day" in 1982 and then was back on the small screen in recurring roles on the sitcoms "Buffalo Bill" (NBC) and "Empire" (CBS). Although she supported Joanne Woodward and Richard Kiley in the affecting TV-movie "Do You Remember Love" (CBS, 1985) and played a judge in "Murder: By Reason of Insanity" (CBS, 1985), the actress was still relatively unknown when she was tapped to play the lumpen proletariat Roxanne in "L.A. Law."
Over her run on the series, Ruttan earned four Emmy nominations for her performance as the caring assistant to womanizing lawyer Arnold Becker (Corbin Bernsen), and raised her profile in Hollywood. She went to appear in features like "Bad Dreams" (1988) and "Funny About Love" (1990), as well as telefilms like "A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story" (CBS, 1991). By the time she was cast as Brian Dennehy's wife in the 1992 NBC miniseries "Deadly Matrimony," Ruttan found her role on the legal drama diminishing. No longer featured weekly, she eventually departed the series, reteaming with Dennehy for a series of TV-movies built around his Chicago policeman character of Jack Reed (four between 1993 and 1996) and the occasional guest role. Having adopted a child as a single parent after the collapse of her third marriage, Ruttan continued to work, albeit in less showy or memorable fare. In 2000, she did offer a chilling turn as the abusive and seemingly uncaring mother of Carmen Ferrara (series regular Sara Rue) on The WB's teen-themed "Popular" and then switched gears to offer a warm, very maternal Mrs. Santa Claus in "The Ultimate Christmas Present" (The Disney Channel).
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved to Santa Rosa, California, to live with mother after high school graduation
Managed a bar after her first husband's death (date approximate)
Professional acting debut in the Staircase Repertory production of "Hot l Baltimore" in Santa Cruz, California; stayed with the company four years
Joined casting department at Universal Studios
Made guest appearances in episodes of the ABC sitcoms "Bosom Buddies" and "Best of the West"
Feature film debut, a bit role as a nurse in "Independence Day"
TV movie debut, small part in "Drop-Out Father" (CBS)
Acted in the pilots "After George" (CBS) and "Buffalo Bill" (NBC)
Had recurring guest role on "Buffalo Bill"
TV series debut as regular, the short-lived CBS comedy "Empire"
Cast as a judge in "Murder: By Reason of Insanity" (CBS)
Had supporting role in the CBS movie "Do You Remember Love"
Breakthrough TV role as lumpen secretary Roxanne Melman on the NBC courtroom series, "L.A. Law"; earned four Emmy nominations; role was diminished from weekly to recurring before she was dropped by the show in its eighth season
Co-starred in the NBC thriller "Bay Coven"
Portrayed the mother of a mentally challenged child in "A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story" (CBS)
Cast as Arlene Reed, wife of a Chicago police detective (played by Brian Dennehy) in the NBC miniseries "Deadly Matrimony"
Appeared on stage in Canada in "Funny Money"
Had featured role in the movie comedy "Krippendorf's Tribe"
Supported Ann-Margaret in the Lifetime movie "Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story"
Made memorable guest appearance as the uncaring mother of Carmen Ferrara (played by Sara Rue) in "Popular" (The WB)