Suzanne Somers may have found fame as the ditzy Chrissy Snow in Three’s Company, but in her new book, she reveals a life filled with difficulty — and the terror she felt when she thought she was going to be raped while on a remote photo shoot in Mexico in the 1970s.
“I went down to lie by the pool, and all of a sudden a creepy guy was there,” the 71-year-old actress told PEOPLE when discussing her book, Two’s Company: A Fifty-Year Romance with Lessons Learned in Love, Life & Business, which is exclusively excerpted in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
According to Somers, the intoxicated man (who was working there as a waiter) offered her some weed, which she refused. He then attempted to kiss her.
“He fell all over me, and I ran into the house,” she said. “I was alone with this creepy guy and I thought, ‘There’s no one here who cares about me, if I run to the ocean what’s going to happen to me down there?’ I hid in the house and he’s going ‘Suzanne.’ It’s like a horror movie, ‘Suzanne.'”
She recalled hiding behind a pillar in the living room, “trying to be as small” as she could.
“I’m thinking, ‘I am just so going to get raped, or killed,'” she said. “I had no power at all.”
Eventually, three men who were on the crew for the photo shoot returned (they were all staying at the same hotel). Fortunately, the waiter left her alone so he could get them food.
Somers said she returned to her room because she “just wanted to be away from all of them.” The crew members were also intoxicated.
When she woke, she realized she’d gone from a terrifying night to a disturbing morning.
“When I woke up in the morning I [was] being photographed by photographer guy,” she said. “He’s telling me, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful, you look so beautiful, and I shoot for Playboy, you have a good body, if you shot for Playboy you could get $15,000.’ He said, ‘Let me just take some shots.'”
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Somers had already agreed to the shoot in Mexico because she was being hassled by bill collectors. She couldn’t afford the exorbitant hospital bills after her son, Bruce, was hit by a car. While joyous that he’d survived, Somers was facing financial disaster. When the photographer presented this “uncomfortable” offer, she remembered, “Without consenting, I consented.”
Later on, she learned she’d been chosen as a playmate. She rejected the offer after discussing it with her husband Alan Hamel (their 50-year romance is detailed extensively in the book). Just as she was going to enter the Playboy building, he said, “Just remember, as long as you live, you’re always going to be thought of first as a playmate.”
Though she decided against being a playmate, the photos were published years later when Three’s Company became the number one show in the country. Somers was immediately in trouble with her big account, Ace Hardware, and with the show. She saved her career by sharing her story with entertainment writer Vernon Scott at the Associated Press.
“I cried all the way home [after the interview],” she said. “The next day (and I’m paraphrasing) the lead of the article was, ‘Why don’t we take better care of our girls?’ And he said, ‘What would you have done if you were in Miss Somers’ shoes?'”
Once the article was published, Somers received a flood of support from the public. She also sued Playboy and was reportedly given $50,000 in restitution, which she donated.
“We are all in control of our joy,” she writes at the end of Two’s Company. “Inevitably, it’s the dark times and the negatives that are our best teachers. Life is the process of learning from all of it. The lucky ones do.”
Two’s Company is on sale now.