The Hollywood Legacy of Shannon Sturges

This story was submitted by Heather Burgett, it has been posted by Times LA

Shannon Sturges is what industry insiders refer to as “Hollywood Royalty.”

A native to Ventura, California, her career as a working actress spans 30 years, and she is currently the head of the Los Angeles-based Speiser Sturges Acting Studio, which has trained leading actors of our time—from Jennifer Lopez to Will Smith.

Shannon Sturges and The Rock
Shannon Sturges and The Rock

As the granddaughter of Oscar-winning director Preston Sturges, she proudly carries on his legacy through the Sturges name. 

In 1941, Preston won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the “The Great McGinty,” his first of three nominations in the category. 

Regretfully, she never got to meet her grandfather, who died 10 years before she was born. 

From the age of eight, Shannon was raised by her paternal grandmother, Louise Sturges, Preston’s third wife.

It’s said that the seven-year stretch of her grandparent’s marriage was Preston’s most prolific period. Louise—who ran with the United Artists Golden Age crowd and frequented the renowned Hearst Castle—raised Shannon after her mother, actress Colette Jackson, tragically passed away. 

Shannon recalls a fairly normal upbringing, while simultaneously being on the periphery of her grandmother’s glamorous life. For example, she wasn’t allowed to go see “Mommy Dearest” because of an unpleasant encounter Louise had experienced with Joan Crawford.

Being in the entertainment industry had been largely tragic for her family—there had been high highs for her grandfather, but with that came low lows, especially financially. “He died without much,” says Shannon.

Her father, actor Solomon Sturges, had struggled as well, so her grandmother encouraged her not to put her “eggs in that basket.” 

While she had listened to her grandmother, the acting profession kept calling to her. 

“I felt that if I could do it for fun and not for a living, it would be okay.”

She would take the lessons she learned from her family and enter the industry “clear-eyed.”

She continues, “It was always a part of me.”

One might think that being a descendant of Preston Sturges, she would have an inside track to landing gigs. However, she had to hit the pavement just like any other actor.

She also humbly admits that she doesn’t often talk about her grandfather and realizes that many people might not even make the connection.

Growing up, she dabbled in plays and theatre. She took acting classes and finally landed a manager and agent. Her first SAG job was a Skittles commercial.

The seminal turning point happened one day while she was in class at UCLA studying Dostoevsky while also reviewing TV’s “Doogie Howser” sides for an upcoming audition.

She knew she had to choose a direction and decided to put her full attention on her acting career. She landed that first role and embarked on a long-standing career in television.

Shannon entered her acting career path with eyes wide open—determined to have a different fate than her parents.

Surprising herself, she landed most of her auditions, which she knew was rare. 

Over the years, she has appeared on a myriad of popular television shows—from“Nip/Tuck,” and “The Mentalist” to “Charmed” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” 

She is perhaps best known for her extended runs on “Savannah” as “Reese Burton” and on “Days of Our Lives” as “Molly Brinker,” as well as numerous Lifetime Television movies.

At the age of 19, she met her mentor and acting coach, Aaron Speiser.

The Speiser Acting Studio was originally a small workshop space held in a “bad part of town,” and that building was eventually demolished.

Through the years, she kept working with Aaron, who at the time had also started working with major celebrities.

Along the way, Aaron told Shannon, “You’ve really got the gift. You should teach.”

But she knew that it would be challenging to be a working actor and a teacher, so it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when her young children were in the picture that she started phasing out acting.

She had been in class at Speiser’s studio with peers like Jennifer Lopez, who she fondly remembered, “played the Stella to my Blanche” for a scene in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

After 30 years of collaboration, when Aaron asked her to take over the studio, she felt that she had known for all those years that becoming the owner was “meant to be.”

In 2015, she took the plunge and bought the studio, changing the name to Speiser Sturges—with Aaron Speiser staying on as a Professor Emeritus.

When the pandemic hit, she transitioned to the online space, so Speiser Sturges now has in-person classes, as well as virtual classes that are available to students from around the globe.

When asked what sets her studio apart, she comments that being female-owned and run, there’s a more nurturing creative spirit than some other studios.

“We don’t use humiliation to break you down and then build you back up. We give honest feedback delivered in a sensitive way—because if someone feels attacked, it results in the student shutting down, which is counter-productive.”

The studio also recently received the proud distinction of becoming WBENC Certified by Women’s Business Enterprise, one of the leading certifiers for women-owned businesses in the U.S.

The studio serves first-time actors to the most seasoned pros in Hollywood. 

Shannon recounts the time that her megastar client “Gerry” (Gerard Butler) stopped by the studio and then watched a student play his role from “Law Abiding Citizen”—he gave some kind notes. 

Or when her SAG Award-winning and Grammy-winning client Chris Bridges (aka Ludacris) was there for a meeting and took the time to talk to a class.

“Our famous clients often give back in an unexpected and generous way.”

Speiser Sturges supports “all walks of life” from musicians to influencers—many of whom are starting with online fame and subsequently looking to break into Hollywood.

The studio serves all ages, from young to old, including a number of up-and-coming actors who are fast on the rise in Hollywood.

“We’ll also coach anyone who is looking for a creative outlet—from doctors and dentists to someone who has always dreamed of being an actor, and now, later in life, wants to take classes as a hobby.”

Most recently, Shannon returned from Europe where she was the on-set acting coach for Kevin Hart’s new Netflix project with Paul Anderson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Worthington.

In a world where there are many unfortunate stories of teachers who take advantage of creatives, it’s a blessing to know that Shannon Sturges is there as a beacon of integrity.

Her upbeat and grounded attitude has surely contributed to her illustrious journey, which seems to have broken the cycle of her predecessor’s struggles. 

We have to imagine that her parents would be happy and relieved to see her doing what they might not have been able to accomplish in their own lifetimes.

It also appears that Shannon is getting her wish of creating a positive impact in the world that will carry on the Sturges’ legacy of contributions to the entertainment industry.

Film Forum is currently running a retrospective on the films of Preston Sturges through February 2, 2023. He goes down in history with the directing elite, alongside DeMille, Hitchcock, and Ford.

The Speiser Sturges Acting Studio is located at 1728 S. La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. 

For more information, visit speisersturges.com