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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).