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May 2017



usan Leigh Bender does things differently.

First she entered show business from the

“show” portion, as a nightclub singer to be

exact. Later, she moved into the industry from the

“business” side, and, in the process, she ended up

selling programs to Latin American TV stations

without speaking Spanish.

In addition, when she started in the industry,

the TV business was a male-dominated field,

with women relegated to secretarial jobs. In this

respect Bender is a pioneer, similar to other female

international TV sales executives such as Claude

S. Perrier and Gilberte de Turenne in France,

Giuliana Nicodemi in Italy, Mex Hartmann in

Germany and Alice Donenfeld in the U.S.

Finally, TV distributors usually start working

in indie companies and then move to studios;

Bender instead went from a studio position and

became an independent distributor.

But before that challenge, which saw her

moving from a studio to an indie and culminated

in a 45-year career that is still going strong, Bender

went through a dramatic, if short, interlude as a

sales executive at Harmony Gold, which was in the

midst of international intrigue and court action.

As vice president, Latin American Television

Sales, Bender worked at Paramount International

Television for 20 years, starting in 1986. Before

that, she was executive director, International

Sales at Metromedia Produces, a company she

joined in 1972.

At Paramount she worked under three division

presidents: Bruce Gordon, Gary Marenzi and

Armando Nuñez Jr. “But,” she said, “even though

I was paid up until 2006, I actually left in 2005.”

Bender added that during that time she “never

did output deals. I simply didn’t believe in them.”

At Metromedia she worked with Paul Rich and,

for two years under Herb Lazarus. Rich recalled:

“Susan pretty much ran the Latin American sales

operation by herself. At MIP-TV in 1980, she

approached me and said, ‘Paul, I’ve got this client

from Argentina who has owed us a lot of money

for a while and wants to see you immediately.’ As

the client approached me, he was carrying a large

manila envelope, and blurted out, ‘This is for you

to pay the balance of what I owe you.’ I opened

it, and inside was $100,000 in bonds! I loved it

when our clients paid their bills (especially Latin

Americans), but, at the sight of all that money, I

panicked, but the ever-reliable Susan remained

cool, took the envelope, walked across the street

to a bank, and deposited it in a Metromedia

account we had established there.”

During an interview at NATPE Miami last

January, Bender admitted that she didn’t know

how the bonds worked. “The bank took care of

cashing them,” she said.

While on the subject, Bender reported that

throughout her TV sales career, she never had

collection problems in Latin America. “Late

payment, yes, but we always got paid,” she added.

In effect, the bonds were the only possible

form of payment at that time, when TV stations

purchased their government bonds with local

currency and used them to pay foreign suppliers.

For a discount on the face value banks bought

the bonds, which were re-sold or cashed when

interests matured.

Bender is a product of America’s heartland,

born in Youngstown, Ohio. She was a Theater

Arts major at Purdue University, in West

Lafayette, Indiana. As such, she was the typical

no-nonsense, practical person with good, down-

to-earth common sense.

Indeed, from the time Bender started on stage

in 1969 as a singer in Santa Monica, California, to

when she entered the TV business at Metromedia

Producers, only three years had passed. And

from there she went to become vice president,

Latin America Television Sales at Paramount TV

International 14 years later.

Here’s how Bender recalled the start of her

career and especially meeting an American star

like Bob Hope: “When I turned 21 years old, Los

Angeles was the place to start a singing career,

so I auditioned for a very famous nightclub in

Santa Monica, California called The Horn. It

was famous in the ’60s and ’70s for showcasing

aspiring talent – including Steve Martin, Andy

Griffith and Phyllis Diller, to name a few. I was

accepted, the youngest to showcase there, and

one night the manager of ‘The New Christy

Minstrels’ was in the audience. After my

performance, he asked me to come and audition

for the group, [which I joined].”

Founded in 1961, the “Minstrels” is still an

American large-ensemble folk music group also

famous for having recorded the 1940 song,


Land Is Your Land


Bender continued: “In 1970, ‘The

New Christy

Minstrels’ went onaUnitedServiceOrganizations

(USO) Tour to entertain our troops in Korea and

Japan. And there, I met Bob Hope.”

The singer, comedian and movie star had

been involved with USO Tours since World War

II and the U.S. government honored him with A

Military Order of the Purple Heart and named a

vessel, “USNS Bob Hope.”

“I eventually became a very close friend of Bob

Hope’s niece, Avis Hope,” Bender added, “and

over the years Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores,

became ‘Uncle Bob and Aunt Dolores,’ when I was

in their company with Avis.”

Not long after, Bender left the “Minstrels”

to embark on her own nightclub act, but she

recalled, “I had a period of six weeks with no club

dates, and needed to earn some money. I went to

By Dom Serafini

Susan L. Bender: Welcoming New

Challenges Wasn’t a Challenge

Int’l TV Distribution Hall of Fame

The tradition of inviting TV stars to mingle with L.A.

Screenings buyers started in 1980, when Metromedia

hosted an after-screenings party on the rooftop terrace of

KTTV. Pictured with Bender during the 1980 cocktail is the

star of


, Linda Evans and, on the left, Paul Rich.

Bender and Sally Treibel at NATPE 2015

Bender at the Paramount stand at MIPCOM 1993 with

Bruce Gordon (left) and Pat Stambaugh (right).

(Continued on Page 42)