Rhonda Fleming, film star of ‘40s and ‘50s, dies at 97

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

Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, California, assistant Carla Sapon advised The Associated Press.

From her first film in coloration, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court ” (1949) with Bing Crosby, Fleming grew to become immensely common with producers as a result of of her vivid hues. It was an attraction she would later remorse.

“Suddenly my green eyes were green. My red hair was flaming red. My skin was porcelain white,” Fleming remarked in a 1990 interview. “There was suddenly all this attention on how I looked rather than the roles I was playing.

“I’d been painted into a corner by the studios, who never wanted more from me than my looking good and waltzing through a parade of films like ‘The Redhead and the Cowboy,’” she mentioned.

Before Reagan entered politics, the actress co-starred with him in “Hong Kong,” “Tropic Zone,” “The Last Outpost” and “Tennessee’s Partner.”

“He surprised everyone because he never looked in a mirror,” she as soon as mentioned of Reagan. “How many actors can you say that about?”

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

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

In Fleming’s case, younger Marilyn Louis was reported to have been headed to class at Beverly Hills High School when a person adopted her in an enormous black automotive and advised her, “You ought to be in pictures.” She eluded him, however he turned up at her residence and provided to be her agent.

Legend or not, at 19 Louis was awarded a six-month contract at the studio of David O. Selznick and a brand new title: Rhonda Fleming. She performed a bit half within the 1944 wartime drama “Since You Went Away,” and then Alfred Hitchcock selected her to play a nymphomaniac in “Spellbound,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

“I rushed home, and my mother and I looked up ‘nymphomaniac’ in the dictionary,” she recalled. “We were both shocked.”

“Spellbound” led to a different suspense film, “The Spiral Staircase,” through which 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 Town,” a Randolph Scott Western; “Out of the Past,” a film noir with Robert Mitchum; and “Adventure Island,” a tropics thriller starring Rory Calhoun.

She received a task 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 beneficial her to Bob Hope, with whom she starred in “The Great Lover.”

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

“I made the mistake of doing lesser films for good money,” she mirrored in a 1976 interview. “I was hot — they all wanted me — but I didn’t have the guidance or background to judge for myself.”

Among her 1950s movies had been “While the City Sleeps,” directed by Fritz Lang and co-starring Dana Andrews. She performed Cleopatra within the 1953 film “Serpent of the Nile.”

But many titles had been forgettable: “The Eagle and the Hawk,” “The Last Outpost,” “Little Egypt,” “The Killer Is Loose,” “Slightly Scarlet,” “Crosswinds” and “Pony Express” (with Charlton Heston), “Inferno,” “Those Redheads from Seattle,” “Yankee Pasha,” and “Gun Glory.”

After her film profession cooled off, Fleming took a singing act to Las Vegas, appeared in TV exhibits and commercials, starred on Broadway in a revival of “The Women” and sang because the temptress Lalume in “Kismet” for the Los Angeles Civic Light 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 City. She studied appearing, however as a backup additionally took lessons in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

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

In 1977, Fleming married mogul Ted Mann, who constructed the Mann Theater chain, and the wedding lasted till his demise in 2001. For a few years, they lived in matching 4,300-square-foot condominiums, one on prime of the opposite in a Century City high-rise. “I treasure my privacy, and Ted needs his,” she as soon as defined. “We love each other very much. I’m much more fulfilled today 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 Resource Center for Women with Cancer at the UCLA Medical Center. They additionally was lively in varied different charities for most cancers sufferers, youngsters and the homeless.

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


The late Associated Press correspondent Bob Thomas compiled materials for this story.

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