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June 10, 2014

Martha Hyer, Oscar-Nominated Actress, Dies at 89


Martha Hyer, an Oscar-nominated movie actress who starred alongside Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in the 1950s and 1960s, died on May 31 at her home in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by Raymond Lucero of Rivera Funeral Home in Santa Fe.

While Ms. Hyer was never a top star herself, she shared the screen with plenty of people who were.

In the 1954 comedy “Sabrina,” starring Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, she played the fiancĂ©e of the Bogart character’s brother, played by William Holden. In the 1958 drama “Some Came Running,” based on a novel by James Jones and starring Sinatra and Martin, she played an emotionally reserved schoolteacher wooed by a war veteran and writer played by Sinatra. Although Ms. Hyer was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress, the actress in the film who received the most notice was Ms. MacLaine, playing a less reputable woman also attracted to the Sinatra character. Ms. MacLaine was nominated for best actress, her first Oscar nomination.

Ms. Hyer enjoyed her fame and was not shy about flaunting her rising wealth. In 1959, Life magazine ran a multipage photo feature highlighting her luxurious life. It depicted her admiring her Sheffield silver and a Pissarro landscape painting and indulging in a massage, covered by only a towel. She extolled fur coats, solitude and her expansive view of Los Angeles. The accompanying text noted that she had been married briefly and was “now a bachelor girl.” (That marriage was to Ray Stahl, who directed a 1954 film in which she appeared, “The Scarlet Spear.”)

“If this is transitory, that is fine,” she told Life. “I’ve dreamed a dream and it has come true. I am happy.”

Her glamorous looks were sometimes compared to those of Grace Kelly and her social life drew steady attention from gossip columnists. Yet her career began to slow in the 1960s, when few of her films were well received. In 1964 she appeared in “Bikini Beach” and had a modest role in “The Carpetbaggers,” a commercial success based on the 1961 novel by Harold Robbins. In 1965 she had a supporting role in “The Sons of Katie Elder,” a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin.

The next year she married one of that film’s producers, Hal B. Wallis, one of the most prominent executives in Hollywood. She also made headlines that year for selling her Pissarro at a Sotheby’s auction for $103,000. She later complained that Mr. Wallis limited one of her favorite hobbies: spending money.

Martha Hyer was born on Aug. 10, 1924, in Fort Worth. Her father, Julien, was a judge and a state lawmaker. She attended Northwestern University before moving to California, where she hoped to become an actress. She found small roles in low-budget westerns and other marginal films before being cast in “Sabrina.”

Information on survivors was not immediately available. Mr. Wallis died in 1986.

Ms. Hyer had stopped making movies by 1971 but continued to appear on television until 1974. Her last role was in an episode of “McCloud.” Among the other shows on which she was seen were “Rawhide,” “The Virginian” and “Burke’s Law.”

In 1990 she published a memoir, “Finding My Way.”

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