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Rhonda Fleming, ’40s and ’50s film star, useless at 97

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Actress Rhonda Fleming, the fiery redhead who appeared with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and different movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, has died. She was 97.

Fleming’s assistant Carla Sapon advised The New York Occasions that Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, California.

From her first movie in colour, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court docket ” (1949) with Bing Crosby, Fleming turned immensely fashionable with producers due to her vivid hues. It was an attraction she would later remorse.

“All of a sudden my inexperienced eyes have been inexperienced. My purple hair was flaming purple. My pores and skin was porcelain white,” Fleming remarked in a 1990 interview. “There was all of a sudden all this consideration on how I appeared reasonably than the roles I used to be taking part in.


“I’d been painted right into a nook by the studios, who by no means needed extra from me than my trying good and waltzing by a parade of movies like ‘The Redhead and the Cowboy.’ ”

Actress Rhonda Fleming poses for a photo in Hollywood, Calif. She died, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, at the age of 97.

Actress Rhonda Fleming poses for a photograph in Hollywood, Calif. She died, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, on the age of 97. (AP Picture/Wally Fong)

Earlier than Reagan entered politics, the actress co-starred with him in “Hong Kong,” “Tropic Zone,” “The Final Outpost” and “Tennessee’s Companion.”

“He shocked everybody as a result of he by no means appeared in a mirror,” she as soon as stated of Reagan. “What number of actors are you able to say that about?”

Fleming possessed a effective singing voice, and later in her profession sang onstage in Las Vegas and in a touring act.

Within the big-studio period, many new personalities have been publicized as having been found in quirky methods: Kim Novak whereas driving a bicycle previous an agent’s workplace, Lana Turner in a malt store.

In Fleming’s case, younger Marilyn Louis was reported to have been headed to class at Beverly Hills Excessive College when a person adopted her in an enormous black automobile and advised her, “You must be in footage.” She eluded him, however he turned up at her dwelling and provided to be her agent.


At 19, Louis was awarded a six-month contract on the studio of David O. Selznick and a brand new identify: Rhonda Fleming. She performed a bit half within the 1944 wartime drama “Since You Went Away,” after which Alfred Hitchcock selected her to play a nymphomaniac in “Spellbound,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

“I rushed dwelling, and my mom and I appeared up ‘nymphomaniac’ within the dictionary,” she recalled. “We have been each shocked.”

“Spellbound” led to a different suspense movie, “The Spiral Staircase,” wherein she was strangled by the villain, George Brent. With Selznick concentrating on the profession of his spouse, Jennifer Jones, he misplaced curiosity in his contract gamers, and Fleming left the studio to freelance.

Her subsequent movies: “Abilene City,” a Randolph Scott Western; “Out of the Previous,” a movie noir with Robert Mitchum; and “Journey Island,” a tropics thriller starring Rory Calhoun.


She received a job in “A Connecticut Yankee,” a Crosby musical primarily based on the Mark Twain story, after Deanna Durbin dropped out to retire to France. Crosby was so impressed that he advisable her to Bob Hope, with whom she starred in “The Nice Lover.”

In this May 20, 1957, file photo, actress Rhonda Fleming blossoms as a singer and dancer in the first night club appearance of her career at the New Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. 

On this Might 20, 1957, file photograph, actress Rhonda Fleming blossoms as a singer and dancer within the first evening membership look of her profession on the New Tropicana lodge in Las Vegas.  (AP Picture/David Smith)

Satirically, the Crosby/Hope movies that established her as a luminary proved to be ones she was by no means in a position to high. She remained a star for 15 years, however aside from the Lancaster-Douglas “Gunfight on the OK Corral,” most of her performances got here in B footage that exploited her seems.

“I made the error of doing lesser movies for good cash,” she mirrored in a 1976 interview. “I used to be scorching — all of them needed me — however I didn’t have the steering or background to guage for myself.”

Amongst her 1950s movies have been “Whereas the Metropolis Sleeps,” directed by Fritz Lang and co-starring Dana Andrews. She performed Cleopatra within the 1953 movie “Serpent of the Nile.”

However many titles have been forgettable: “The Eagle and the Hawk,” “The Final Outpost,” “Little Egypt,” “The Killer Is Free,” “Barely Scarlet,” “Crosswinds” and “Pony Categorical” (with Charlton Heston), “Inferno,” “These Redheads from Seattle,” “Yankee Pasha,” and “Gun Glory.”


After her movie profession cooled off, Fleming took a singing act to Las Vegas, appeared in TV reveals and commercials, starred on Broadway in a revival of “The Ladies” and sang because the temptress Lalume in “Kismet” for the Los Angeles Civic Gentle Opera.

She was born in Los Angeles in 1923. Her mom, Effie Graham, had appeared in a 1914 Broadway musical with Al Jolson, and her grandfather was a theatrical producer in Salt Lake Metropolis. She studied appearing, however as a backup additionally took lessons in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

Whereas nonetheless in her teenagers, Fleming married her highschool sweetheart, Thomas Lane. A son, Kent, was born in 1941. When Lane returned from Military service, Rhonda had develop into a star, and the wedding resulted in 1947. Three different marriages additionally resulted in divorce, to Beverly Hills surgeon Lewis Morrill (1952-1958); actor Lang Jeffries (1960-1962); and producer-director Corridor Bartlett (1966-1972).

In 1977, Fleming married mogul Ted Mann, who constructed the Mann Theater chain, and the wedding lasted till his loss of life in 2001. For a few years, they lived in matching 4,300-square-foot condominiums, one on high of the opposite in a Century Metropolis high-rise. “I treasure my privateness, and Ted wants his,” she as soon as defined. “We love one another very a lot. I’m rather more fulfilled at the moment than at any time in my life.”


After Fleming’s sister, Beverly Engel, died of most cancers in 1991, Fleming and her husband established the Rhonda Fleming Mann Useful resource Heart for Ladies with Most cancers on the UCLA Medical Heart. Additionally they have been lively in varied different charities for most cancers sufferers, kids and the homeless.

A few years after Mann died, Fleming married for a sixth time, to Derol W. Carlson, who died in 2017.

The Related Press contributed to this report.

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