Rhonda Fleming, the actor nicknamed the “Queen of Technicolor” and who appeared with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and other movie stars of the 40s and 50s, has died. She was 97.
Fleming aide Carla Sapon told the New York Times that Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, California.
From his first color film, The Yankees of Connecticut at King Arthur̵
“Suddenly my green eyes turned green. My red hair was fiery red. My skin was porcelain white, ”Fleming said in a 1990 interview. Suddenly, all attention was paid to how I looked, not the roles I played. I was painted in the corner by studios who never wanted more from me than to look good and waltz through a parade of movies like Redhead and the Cowboy. “
Before Reagan entered politics, Fleming partnered with him in Hong Kong, the Tropics, the Last Outpost, and a Tennessee Partner. “He surprised everyone because he never looked in the mirror,” she once told Reagan. “How many actors can you say that about?”
In the big studio era, many new personalities were advertised as discovered in strange ways: Kim Novak, while riding a bike past an agent’s office, was spotted by Lana Turner in a malt store. In Fleming’s case, young Marilyn Lewis was reportedly heading to a class at Beverly Hills High School when a man followed her in a big black car and told her, “You have to be in pictures.” She avoided him, but he showed up at her house and offered to be her agent. The man was actually Henry Wilson, a well-known Hollywood agent who also led the early careers of Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner.
At the age of 19, Lewis received a six-month contract in the studio of David O Selznik and received a new name: Ronda Fleming. She played a small role in the 1944 war drama since she left, and then Alfred Hitchcock chose her to play what he described as a “nymphomaniac” in Spellbound, starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. “I rushed home and my mother and I looked up a ‘nymphomaniac’ in the dictionary,” she said later. “We were both shocked.”
The spell led to another unknown film, The Spiral Staircase, in which she was strangled by the villain George Brent. After Selznick concentrated on the career of his wife Jennifer Jones, he lost interest in his contract players and Fleming left the studio as a freelancer. Her next films were Abilene Town, a western by Randolph Scott; Outside of the Past, Noir Film with Robert Mitchum; and Adventure Island, a tropical thriller starring Rory Calhoun.
She won a starring role in A Connecticut Yankee, a Crosby musical based on the story of Mark Twain, after Diana Durbin dropped out to retire to France. Crosby was so impressed that he recommended her to Bob Hope, with whom she starred in The Big Lover.
Ironically, the Crosby / Hope films that established her as a major figure turned out to be the ones she never managed to lead. She remained a star for 15 years, but with the exception of the Lancaster-Douglas shootout at OK Corral, most of her performances were in B photos that exploited her appearance. “I made the mistake of making fewer films for good money,” she said in a 1976 interview. I was hot, everyone wanted me, but I had no guidance or experience to judge for myself.
Among her films from the 1950s were “While the City Sleeps”, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews. She played Cleopatra in the 1953 film The Snake of the Nile. But many titles were forgotten: The Eagle and the Hawk, The Last Outpost, Little Egypt, The Assassin is Loose, Slightly Scarlett, The Seattle Redheads, and The Pony Express (with Charlton Heston).
After her film career cooled, Fleming sang in Las Vegas, appeared on television and commercials, starred on Broadway in the Women’s Revival, and sang as Lalume’s temptress in Kismet for the Los Angeles Civil Light Opera.
As a teenager, Fleming married his favorite high school, Thomas Lane. Son Kent was born in 1941. When Lane returned from military service, Ronda became a star and the marriage ended in 1947. Three other marriages also ended in divorce, with Beverly Hills surgeon Louis Morrell (1952-1958); actor Lang Jeffries (1960-1962); and producer-director Hall Bartlett (1966-1972). In 1977, Fleming married tycoon Ted Mann, who built the Mann Theater, and the marriage lasted until his death in 2001. After Mann died, Fleming married for the sixth time to Derol W Carlson, who died in 2017.