Rhonda Fleming, an actor nicknamed the “Queen of Technocolor”, who appeared with Bert Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and other movie stars of the 1940s-1950s. She was 97.
Fleming’s aide Carla Sapon told the New York Times that Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, California.
From his first color film, The Yankees in Connecticut at King Arthur̵7;s Court (1949) with Bing Crosby, Fleming became extremely popular with producers due to his bright natural colors. It was a train she would later regret.
“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 that attention was focused on how I looked, not the roles I played. I was painted in a corner by studios that never wanted more from me than how good I look and waltz through a parade of movies like Red and the Cowboy.
Before Reagan entered politics, Fleming starred with him in Hong Kong, the Tropics, the Last Outpost, and Tennessee partners. “He surprised everyone because he never looked in the mirror,” she once said of Reagan. “How many actors can you say that about?”
In the age of big studios, many new people revealed that they were discovered in bizarre ways: Kim Novak, riding a bicycle past the agent’s office, Lana Turner noticed in a malt shop. In Fleming’s case, young Marilyn Louis was reportedly attending classes at Beverly Hills High School when her husband followed her in a large black car and told her, “You must be in the pictures.” She avoided him, but he found himself at her house and offered to be her agent. In fact, the man was Henry Wilson, a well-known Hollywood agent who also led the early careers of Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner.
At the age of 19, Louis received a six-month contract in David O Selznick’s studio and was given a new name: Ronda Fleming. She played a part in the 1944 drama since you left, and then Alfred Hitchcock chose her to play what he called a “nymphomaniac” in The Curse, starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. “I ran home, and my mother and I looked up the ‘nymphomaniac’ in the dictionary,” she said later. “We were both shocked.”
The spell led to another intense film “Spiral Stairs”, in which she was strangled by the villain George Brent. When Selznick focused on his wife Jennifer Jones’ career, he lost interest in his contract players, and Fleming left the studio to freelance. Her next films were the city of Abilene, Randolph Scott’s Western; “From the Past” – a noir film with Robert Mitchum; and “Adventure Island” – a tropical thriller starring Rory Calhoun.
She landed a lead role in the Yankee Connecticut film, a Crosby musical based on the story of Mark Twain, after Dean Durbin retired from 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 recognized her as the main character turned out to be the ones she could never lead. She remained a star for 15 years, but with the exception of the Lancaster-Douglas shootout at OK Corral, most of her performances took place in B-images that used her appearance. “I made the mistake of making smaller films for good money,” she said in a 1976 interview. “I was hot, they all wanted me, but I didn’t have the guidance and experience to judge myself.”
Among her 1950s films were “While the City Sleeps,” directed by Fritz Lang and Dana Andrews. She played Cleopatra in the 1953 film The Snake from the Nile. But many names could be forgotten: “Eagle and Hawk”, “Last Outpost”, “Little Egypt”, “Killer Free”, “Slightly Red”, “Red from Seattle” and “Pony Express” (with Charlton Heston).
After her film career cooled, Fleming took a singing act in Las Vegas, appeared in television shows and commercials, starred on Broadway in the revival of “Women” and sang as Lalume’s seductress in Kismet for the Public Light Public Opera.
As a teenager, Fleming married her high school sweetheart, Thomas Lane. Kent’s son 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 from Beverly Hills surgeon Lewis Morill (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 Network, and the marriage lasted until his death in 2001. After Mann’s death, Fleming married Derol Carlson for the sixth time, who died in 2017.