I’m not sure about you, but I don’t meet Emmy Award winners every day.
Nevertheless, amidst the seemingly endless trove of talent in Redlands, there resides an amazingly accomplished woman who has won four Emmy Awards during her producing and directing career.
And the winner is...Sue Ann Staake.
Although her career spans four decades in television, Sue Ann remains humble and grateful for her unexpected journey toward broadcast journalism.
“I grew up in Washington, D.C. and that was an advantage,” she acknowledged. “It’s a place where I encountered people from all walks of life. I gained a lifelong appreciation of the world community—an openness to a variety of people and cultures.”
Sue Ann also appreciates the years growing up with her family. “I experienced a wonderful childhood with supportive parents,” she reflected. “I was encouraged in my interests. As the only girl in the family, my three brothers doted on me. And practically spoiled me! But that turned out to be great preparation for what was ahead.”
What was ahead was an education at the University of Maryland. Although Sue Ann began as a drama major, the communications department drew upon the talents of the theater students. “I sort of fell into television,” Sue Ann recalled. “I was asked to read scenes in front of cameras. I enjoyed that experience and switched my major to an emphasis in television. My first professional job was to place commercials in spots during broadcasts. No Coke ads in the same commercial break as Pepsi ads!”
Although she began as a volunteer and a gofer in TV studios, Sue Ann soon trail-blazed her way in the news divisions of all the major television networks. She rose to become a member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1980 and gained membership in the Director’s Guild of America in 1984. “Very few women were doing what I began to do,” Sue Ann revealed. “Let’s face it, the industry was male dominated. But, thanks to my brothers, I’ve always been comfortable around men. So I simply approached colleagues with kindness and tried to never pose a threat.”
Her diplomacy paid off. Sue Ann became the first female director of “Face the Nation,” a CBS news institution. “Moderator Bob Schaefer was a prince,” Sue Ann fondly recalled. “I had worked with him for 25 years. In all that time I could not discern his political affiliation. His two best friends were the late Senator Ted Kennedy and former Vice President Dick Cheney—two opposites indeed. Now that’s an objective journalist!”
Sue Ann won a national Emmy Award for a program covering the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination. She also directed the first national election programming in Bosnia and news programs on PBS, including “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.”
Another career highlight for Staake was directing “This Week with David Brinkley” for ABC News.
“He once had a reputation for being difficult,” Sue Ann confided. “But I found him to be kindly and brilliant. I’ve also met some lovely people, such as Paul Newman and Steve Allen. They were as nice as you might imagine them to be.”
Sue Ann’s admirable sense of propriety prevented her naming the not-so-lovely celebrities.
“Now I’ve retired from my broadcasting career and returned to my first love—the stage,” she enthused. “Performing in ‘My Fair Lady’ was on my bucket list and I was thrilled to do that recently. And my husband Gary is a supportive fan.”
Sue Ann is currently directing “Women Warriors,” a one-woman show starring author Annette Hubbell. The production dramatizes historic contributions made by Sojourner Truth, Corrie ten Boom and other notable women. Performances continue through Jan. 26 at LifeHouse Theater, in Redlands.
As executive director of SAS Productions, Inc., Sue Ann also continues to work behind the scenes on special media and video projects—as she has done since founding the company in 1989.
Her former colleague David Brinkley himself offered a thought regarding achievement. “A successful person,” he wrote, “is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at her.” I can’t imagine anyone tossing bricks toward a professional as gracious as Sue Ann.
With a new year and new decade before us, it’s reassuring to know that personal character and determination can still make a difference. Sue Ann continues to serve as a beacon of inspiration for upcoming generations of men and women.
Wayne R. Scott is an award-winning writer, producer and director who serves as President of LifeHouse Theater, Redlands.