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Rhonda Fleming, ’40s and ’50s movie star, dead at 97

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

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

From her first film in colour, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Courtroom ” (1949) with Bing Crosby, Fleming became immensely well-liked with producers since of her vivid hues. It was an attraction she would later regret.

“Suddenly my eco-friendly eyes had been environmentally friendly. My purple hair was flaming purple. My skin was porcelain white,” Fleming remarked in a 1990 interview. “There was instantly all this awareness on how I appeared instead than the roles I was enjoying.

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“I’d been painted into a corner by the studios, who never ever preferred a lot more from me than my looking excellent and waltzing by way of a parade of films like ‘The Redhead and the Cowboy.’ ”

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

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

“He astonished absolutely everyone since he by no means looked in a mirror,” she when explained of Reagan. “How lots of actors can you say that about?”

Fleming possessed a great singing voice, and afterwards in her occupation sang onstage in Las Vegas and in a touring act.

In the massive-studio period, many new personalities were being publicized as obtaining been discovered in quirky methods: Kim Novak when driving a bicycle previous an agent’s office, Lana Turner in a malt store.

In Fleming’s case, young Marilyn Louis was claimed to have been headed to course at Beverly Hills High School when a person adopted her in a huge black auto and advised her, “You ought to be in photographs.” She eluded him, but he turned up at her residence and offered to be her agent.

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At 19, Louis was awarded a six-month agreement at the studio of David O. Selznick and a new name: Rhonda Fleming. She performed a bit aspect in the 1944 wartime drama “Since You Went Absent,” and then Alfred Hitchcock chose her to enjoy a nymphomaniac in “Spellbound,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

“I rushed residence, and my mom and I looked up ‘nymphomaniac’ in the dictionary,” she recalled. “We were equally stunned.”

“Spellbound” led to yet another suspense movie, “The Spiral Staircase,” in which she was strangled by the villain, George Brent. With Selznick concentrating on the occupation of his spouse, Jennifer Jones, he shed curiosity in his agreement gamers, and Fleming still left the studio to freelance.

Her upcoming movies: “Abilene City,” a Randolph Scott Western “Out of the Earlier,” a film noir with Robert Mitchum and “Adventure Island,” a tropics thriller starring Rory Calhoun.

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She gained a purpose in “A Connecticut Yankee,” a Crosby musical dependent on the Mark Twain story, after Deanna Durbin dropped out to retire to France. Crosby was so amazed that he advisable her to Bob Hope, with whom she starred in “The Great 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. 

In this May 20, 1957, file photograph, actress Rhonda Fleming blossoms as a singer and dancer in the 1st night time club visual appearance of her occupation at the New Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. 
(AP Picture/David Smith)

Ironically, the Crosby/Hope films that set up her as a luminary proved to be kinds she was never in a position to major. She remained a star for 15 yrs, but other than for the Lancaster-Douglas “Gunfight at the Ok Corral,” most of her performances came in B images that exploited her appears.

“I produced the error of undertaking lesser movies for great dollars,” she mirrored in a 1976 interview. “I was warm — they all desired me — but I didn’t have the steerage or history to choose for myself.”

Among the her 1950s movies were “While the Town Sleeps,” directed by Fritz Lang and co-starring Dana Andrews. She played Cleopatra in the 1953 film “Serpent of the Nile.”

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

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Immediately after her film occupation cooled off, Fleming took a singing act to Las Vegas, appeared in Television demonstrates and commercials, starred on Broadway in a revival of “The Women” and sang as the temptress Lalume in “Kismet” for the Los Angeles Civic Gentle Opera.

She was born in Los Angeles in 1923. Her mother, Effie Graham, experienced appeared in a 1914 Broadway musical with Al Jolson, and her grandfather was a theatrical producer in Salt Lake Metropolis. She examined acting, but as a backup also took courses in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

Even though continue to in her teens, Fleming married her high college sweetheart, Thomas Lane. A son, Kent, was born in 1941. When Lane returned from Army service, Rhonda had turn into a star, and the relationship ended in 1947. A few other marriages also finished 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 built the Mann Theater chain, and the marriage lasted till his death in 2001. For numerous years, they lived in matching 4,300-square-foot condominiums, one on leading of the other in a Century City superior-increase. “I treasure my privateness, and Ted needs his,” she after discussed. “We enjoy each other incredibly substantially. I’m a great deal extra fulfilled currently than at any time in my lifestyle.”

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Immediately after Fleming’s sister, Beverly Engel, died of cancer in 1991, Fleming and her husband recognized the Rhonda Fleming Mann Useful resource Heart for Ladies with Most cancers at the UCLA Health care Heart. They also were being lively in many other charities for cancer patients, children and the homeless.

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

The Linked Press contributed to this report.

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