December 17, 2013

Audrey Totter, Actress in Noir Films, Dies at 95

Audrey Totter, who as a femme-fatale star of Hollywood’s noir films of the 1940s could twist figurative daggers with the subtlest arch of her perfectly plucked eyebrows, died on Thursday in West Hills, Calif. She was 95, and it had been decades since she last committed a crime — most were of the heart — on the silver screen.

The cause was complications of congestive heart failure, her daughter, Mea Lane, said.

Ms. Totter played a other kinds of roles in her career, including supportive wives and a caring nurse. But, formidable even at 5-foot-3, she preferred the dark parts — and they were the ones for which she is most remembered.

“The bad girls were so much fun to play,” she told The New York Times in 1999 in an interview with her fellow noir actresses Marie Windsor, Coleen Gray and Jane Greer.

One of Ms. Totter’s most memorable roles was also one of her earliest, as a young woman, stranded and sultry, in the 1946 film “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” When the character played by John Garfield offers to help with her broken-down car, she accepts his offer and gets out of her car.

“I’m going to wait standing up,” she says. “It’s a hot day and that’s a leather seat. And I’ve got on a thin skirt.”

A year later she had a more prominent role in “Lady in the Lake,” a murder mystery based on a Raymond Chandler novel. For most of the film the camera serves as the eyes of the main character, the private detective Philip Marlowe (played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed). Ms. Totter’s character, a conspiring publishing executive who hires Marlowe, often looks directly into the camera, sparring with the detective and by extension the viewer.

She appeared in several more noir films, including “The Unsuspected” (1947), “High Wall” (1947) and “Tension” (1950), in which she has an adulterous relationship and then persuades her husband, played by Richard Basehart, to falsely confess to killing her boyfriend.

While Ms. Totter was most noted for her work in noir, she was also critically praised for her part as the wife of an aging boxer in the 1949 drama “The Set-Up.” After her husband insists he is just “one punch away” from a chance to fight for a championship, she responds: “I remember the first time you told me that. You were just one punch away from the title shot then. Don’t you see, Bill, you’ll always be just one punch away.”

Audrey Mary Totter was born on Dec. 20, 1917, in Joliet, Ill. Her father, John, drove a streetcar.

Ms. Totter acted in touring plays and did radio work in Chicago and New York before moving to Hollywood.

In 1953 she married Dr. Leo Fred, an assistant dean in the medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two grandchildren and a brother, George. Dr. Fred died in 1995.

Ms. Totter’s film career largely ended in the 1950s, but she later had several recurring roles on television, including as Nurse Wilcox on “Medical Center” in the mid-1970s.

December 15, 2013

Joan Fontaine, Oscar-winner for 'Suspicion,' Dies

Joan Fontaine, right, and Judith Anderson in the 1940 movie "Rebecca."

CARMEL, CA — Academy Award-winning actress Joan Fontaine, who found stardom playing naive wives in Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion" and "Rebecca" and also was featured in films by Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Nicholas Ray, died Sunday. She was 96.

Fontaine, the sister of fellow Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland, died in her sleep in her Carmel, Calif., home Sunday morning, said longtime friend Noel Beutel. Fontaine had been fading in recent days and died "peacefully," Beutel said.

In her later years, Fontaine had lived quietly at her Villa Fontana estate about 5 miles south of Carmel, enjoying its spectacular view of windswept Point Lobos.

Fontaine's pale, soft features and frightened stare made her ideal for melodrama and she was a major star for much of the 1940s. For Hitchcock, she was a prototype of the uneasy blondes played by Kim Novak in "Vertigo" and Tippi Hedren in "The Birds" and "Marnie." The director would later say he was most impressed by Fontaine's restraint. She would credit George Cukor, who directed her in "The Women," for urging her to "think and feel and the rest will take care of itself."

Fontaine appeared in more than 30 movies, including early roles in "The Women" and "Gunga Din," the title part in "Jane Eyre" and in Max Ophuls' historical drama "Letter from an Unknown Woman." She was also in films directed by Wilder ("The Emperor Waltz"), Lang ("Beyond a Reasonable Doubt") and, wised up and dangerous, in Ray's "Born to be Bad." She starred on Broadway in 1954 in "Tea and Sympathy" and in 1980 received an Emmy nomination for her cameo on the daytime soap "Ryan's Hope."

"You know, I've had a helluva life," Fontaine once said. "Not just the acting part. I've flown in an international balloon race. I've piloted my own plane. I've ridden to the hounds. I've done a lot of exciting things."

Fontaine had minor roles in several films in the 1930s, but received little attention and was without a studio contract when she was seated next to producer David O. Selznick at a dinner party near the decade's end. She impressed him enough to be asked to audition for "Rebecca," his first movie since "Gone With the Wind" and the American directorial debut of Hitchcock.

Just as seemingly every actress had tried out for Scarlett O'Hara, hundreds applied for the lead female role in "Rebecca," based on Daphne du Maurier's gothic best-seller about haunted Maxim de Winter and the dead first wife — the title character — he obsesses over. With Laurence Olivier as Maxim, Fontaine as the unsuspecting second wife and Judith Anderson as the dastardly housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, "Rebecca" won the Academy Award for best picture and got Fontaine the first of her three Oscar nominations.

"Miss Du Maurier never really convinced me any one could behave quite as the second Mrs. de Winter behaved and still be sweet, modest, attractive and alive," The New York Times' Frank Nugent wrote upon the film's release.

"But Miss Fontaine does it not simply with her eyes, her mouth, her hands and her words, but with her spine. Possibly it's unethical to criticize performances anatomically. Still we insist Miss Fontaine has the most expressive spine — and shoulders we've bothered to notice this season."

"Rebecca" made her a star, but she felt as out of place off screen as her character was in the film. She remembered being treated cruelly by Olivier, who openly preferred his then-lover Vivien Leigh for the role, and being ignored by the largely British cast. Her uncertainty was reinforced by Hitchcock, who would insist that he was the only one who believed in her.

Hitchcock's "Suspicion," released in 1941, and featuring Fontaine as the timid woman whose husband (Cary Grant) may or may not be a killer, brought her a best actress Oscar and dramatized one of Hollywood's legendary feuds, between Fontaine and de Havilland, a losing nominee for "Hold Back the Dawn."

Competition for the prize hardened feelings that had apparent roots in childhood ("Livvie" was a bully, Joan an attention hog) and endured into old age, with Fontaine writing bitterly about her sister in the memoir "No Bed of Roses" and telling one reporter that she could not recall "one act of kindness from Olivia all through my childhood." While they initially downplayed any problems, tension was evident in 1947 when de Havilland came offstage after winning her first Oscar, for "To Each His Own." Fontaine came forward to congratulate her and was rebuffed. Explained de Havilland's publicist: "This goes back for years and years, ever since they were children."

While Fontaine topped her sister in 1941, and picked up a third nomination for the 1943 film "The Constant Nymph," de Havilland went on to win two Oscars and was nominated three other times.

Fontaine was featured in "Jane Eyre" with Orson Welles and she and Bing Crosby got top billing in "Emperor Waltz." A few other Fontaine films: "Bed of Roses," ''A Damsel In Distress," ''Blonde Cheat," ''Ivanhoe," ''You've Gotta Stay Happy" and "You Can't Beat Love." Her most daring role came in the 1957 film "Island in the Sun," in which she had an interracial romance with Harry Belafonte. Several Southern cities banned the movie after threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

Fontaine said she left Hollywood because she was asked to play Elvis Presley's mother. "Not that I had anything against Elvis Presley. But that just wasn't my cup of tea," she said.

While making New York her home for 25 years, she appeared in about 30 dinner theater plays. She also appeared twice on Broadway, replacing Deborah Kerr in the hit 1953 drama "Tea and Sympathy" and Julie Harris in the long-running 1968 comedy "Forty Carats." She joked once about being burglarized in the Big Apple.

"All the jewelry I lost came from me," she said. "Somehow I was the kind of a girl to whom husbands — and other men, too — gave copper frying pans. I never could quite figure it out."

In 1966, Fontaine starred in "The Devil's Own." In 1978, she played a socialite in the made-for-TV movie based on Joyce Haber's steamy novel, "The Users." In the '70s and '80s she appeared on the television series such as "The Love Boat," ''Cannon," and in "Ryan's Hope."

Show business had come naturally. Besides her Oscar-winning sister, her mother, Lillian Fontaine, appeared in more than a dozen films.

Fontaine was born Joan de Havilland in 1917 in Tokyo, where her British parents lived. Both she and her sister, born in 1916, were sickly, and their mother hoped a change of climate would improve their health when she moved the family to California in 1919 after the breakup of her marriage.

"There was always something wrong with me," Fontaine recalled. "For a while I averaged about two days a week in school. I had headaches, I had all kinds of pains. I was kept away from other children, never allowed to do the things they did."

She returned to East Asia at the age of 15, taking up amateur theatricals and studying art. After returning to California, Fontaine appeared in a play called "Call It A Day" in Los Angeles in 1937, gaining the attention of an agent who signed her to her first film, "Quality Street." Her sister was already an established film actress. Fontaine changed her last name, taking that of her mother's second husband.

She married four times. Fontaine's first husband was actor Brian Aherne; the second, film executive William Dozier; the third, film producer Collin Hudson Young. The ex-husband of actress Ida Lupino, Young produced "The Bigamist," with Lupino and Fontaine starring and Lupino directing. Fontaine's last husband was Sports Illustrated golf editor Alfred Wright Jr.

Dozier and Fontaine had a daughter, Deborah Leslie, whose godmother was actress Maureen O'Sullivan. Fontaine later adopted a child from Peru, Maritita Pareja.

Despite divorce, Fontaine remained philosophical about love and marriage.

"Goodness knows, I tried," she said after her second marriage failed. "But I think it's virtually impossible for the right kind of man to be married to a movie star."

"Something happens when he steps off a train and someone says, 'Step right this way, Mr. Fontaine.' That hurts. Any man with self-respect can't take it, and I wouldn't want to marry the other kind."

Joan Fontaine Dead at 96

She and older sister Olivia de Havilland are the only siblings to win Oscars.

Joan Fontaine, who died Sunday night at age 96 at her home in Carmel, Calif., represented more than an Oscar-winning career spanning almost six decades: She was one of the industry's last living links to Hollywood's golden era of the 1930s and '40s.

While she was nominated for two Oscars and won another, she's known as much for her relationships with Hollywood icons including Alfred Hitchcock and sister Olivia de Havilland — a bitter rival.

A polished actress, Fontaine began in minor roles in movies such as A Million to One and Quality Street, opposite Katharine Hepburn, both in 1937.

But during a dinner party with famed producer David O. Selznick, he asked her to audition for a part in the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca, to be directed by newcomer Alfred Hitchcock.

She earned an Academy Award nomination for that film, and followed it the next year with a best actress win for Hitchcock's Suspicion, co-starring Cary Grant. The trophy would mark the only Academy Award-winning acting performance of Hitchcock's career.

Fontaine scored a third best-actress Oscar nomination for her role in The Constant Nymph in 1943, and had notable turns as Charlotte Bronte's heroine in Jane Eyre in 1944 with Orson Welles, as well as roles in 1950's September Affair and in 1957's Island in the Sun.

But it was Hitchcock's fancy for blondes that skyrocketed Fontaine's career — and exacerbated an already-fierce rivalry with older sister de Havilland.

Fontaine, who changed her last name because the family didn't want the two actresses to share one, faced her sister for an Academy Award in 1942, when Fontaine was up for Suspicion, de Havilland for Hold Back the Dawn. Fontaine took the statuette that night, though de Havilland would win two others, for 1949's The Heiress and 1946's To Each His Own. The night of Fontaine's win, she famously rejected her sister's congratulations, and the relationship became so estranged that they stopped speaking. They remain the only siblings to win Oscars.

A licensed pilot, Fontaine was an accomplished interior decorator who married and divorced four times, and her husbands included Batman TV show producer William Dozier and British actor Brian Aherne.

In 1980, Fontaine was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for an appearance on the soap opera Ryan's Hope, and two years later headed the jury at the Berlin Film Festival.

Fontaine, who emerged from retirement for the 1994 Family Channel movie Good King Wenceslas, is survived by two daughters.

Peter O'Toole, Star of Lawrence of Arabia, Dies

The actor Peter O'Toole, who found stardom in David Lean's masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, has died at 81, his agent said.

The acclaimed leading man who overcame stomach cancer in the 1970s passed away on Saturday at the Wellington Hospital in London following a long illness, Steve Kenis said.

O'Toole announced last year he was stopping acting saying: "I bid the profession a dry-eyed and profoundly grateful farewell."

He said his career on stage and screen fulfilled him emotionally and financially, bringing him together "with fine people, good companions with whom I've shared the inevitable lot of all actors: flops and hits."

Early in his career O'Toole became emblematic of a new breed of hard-drinking Hollywood hellraiser.

"We heralded the '60s," he once said. "Me, [Richard] Burton, Richard Harris; we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now. We drank in public, we knew about pot."

Last month it was reported he had been coaxed out of retirement to act in a film about ancient Rome called Katherine of Alexandria in which he would play Cornelius Gallus, a palace orator.

O'Toole is believed to have been born in Connemara in County Galway in Ireland, and lived in London. He shot to stardom in the 1962 film of T.E. Lawrence's life story and went on to star in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man and My Favorite Year. He received an honorary Oscar in 2003 after receiving eight nominations and no wins - an unassailed record.

He is survived by his two daughters, Pat and Kate O'Toole, from his marriage to actress Siân Phillips, and his son, Lorcan O'Toole, by Karen Brown.

December 09, 2013

Eleanor Parker, 91, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies

Eleanor Parker, who was nominated three times for a best-actress Oscar but whose best-known role was a supporting one, as the marriage-minded baroness in “The Sound of Music,” died on Monday in Palm Springs, Calif. She was 91.

A family friend, Richard Gale, told The Associated Press that the cause was complications of pneumonia.

Ms. Parker was an elegant, ladylike yet sensual film actress. Still, her most recognizable role, as the Baroness who loves Christopher Plummer’s character, Captain von Trapp, in “The Sound of Music” (1965), called for an icy demeanor. Uninterested in his houseful of children, she loses him to the governess, played memorably by Julie Andrews. (Laura Benanti played the part in the recent version on NBC.)

The highest accolades of Ms. Parker’s career came a decade before.

She was nominated for an Oscar for dramatic roles as a wrongly convicted young prisoner in “Caged” (1950), a police officer’s neglected wife in “Detective Story” (1951) and an opera star with polio in “Interrupted Melody” (1955), a biography of the Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence. She also received an Emmy Award nomination in 1963 for an episode of “The Eleventh Hour,” an NBC series about psychiatric cases.

If she never became a star, admirers contended, it was because of her versatility. Sometimes a blonde, sometimes a brunette, often a redhead, Ms. Parker made indelible impressions but submerged herself in a wide range of characters, from a war hero’s noble fiancée in “Pride of the Marines” (1945) to W. Somerset Maugham’s vicious waitress-prostitute in a remake of “Of Human Bondage” (1946).

Eleanor Jean Parker was born on June 26, 1922, in Cedarville, Ohio, the daughter of a math teacher and his wife. She appeared in school plays as a child and, in her teens, headed for Massachusetts to study acting at the Rice Summer Theater in Martha’s Vineyard. Then she moved to California and studied at the Pasadena Playhouse.

According to numerous sources, she was approached by movie scouts at both schools but turned down their offers of screen tests in favor of completing her education. When she had done that, she got back to the Warner Brothers scout and was soon given a contract.

Her feature film debut, however, was delayed. It was supposed to be in the western “They Died With Their Boots On” (1941), with Errol Flynn, but her scenes were edited out. In 1942 she appeared in two war-promotion shorts and provided the voice of a telephone operator in a Humphrey Bogart gangster movie, “The Big Shot.” Finally, later that year, she appeared as a frightened bus passenger in “Busses Roar,” a black-and-white drama about wartime saboteurs.

Over the next quarter-century her career tended toward the deadly serious in films like “Between Two Worlds” (1944), about air-raid victims in the afterlife, and “The Man With the Golden Arm” (1955), the drug-addiction drama, as Frank Sinatra’s unsupportive wife. But she won favorable reviews in the occasional comedy, like “The Voice of the Turtle” (1947), opposite Ronald Reagan, and “A Hole in the Head” (1959), in which she also starred with Sinatra, and in hybrids like “The King and Four Queens” (1956), with Clark Gable.

Ms. Parker appeared in numerous television movies and as a guest on several series, mostly in the 1960s and ’70s. She won new attention as a powerful movie-industry secretary in the NBC series “Bracken’s World” (1969-70). Her last theatrical film was “Sunburn” (1979), a poorly received comedy starring Farrah Fawcett, and her final television appearance a 1991 movie, “Dead on the Money,” with Kevin McCarthy.

Ms. Parker’s first husband was Fred L. Losse, a Navy dentist whom she met on the set of the pro-Soviet drama “Mission to Moscow.” Their marriage, in 1943, lasted 21 months. In 1946 she married Bert E. Friedlob, a film producer. Before their divorce, in 1953, they had three children together.

A third marriage, to Paul Clemens, an artist, lasted from 1954 to 1965. They had a son. In 1966, she married Raymond N. Hirsch, a Chicago businessman, who died in 2001. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

In 1953, with two recent Oscar nominations to her credit, Ms. Parker talked to The New York Times about her good career luck so far. “Things have a way of working out right for me,” she said, adding a bit later, “I maintain that if you work, believe in yourself and do what is right for you without stepping all over others, the way somehow opens up.”

“I even got my three wishes granted,” she said in the same interview. “To be in pictures, to give Mother a mink coat and buy the folks a house.”