Dorothy Malone, Oscar-winning actress dies at 92

Dorothy Malone, an actress known for her sultry roles, including an Oscar-winning star turn as a nymphomaniac rich girl in “Written on the Wind” from 1956 and who later starred in the 1960s prime-time TV soap opera “Peyton Place,” died Jan. 19 at an assisted-living facility in Dallas. According to public records, she was 92.

Her manager, Burt Shapiro, announced her death. The cause was not disclosed but considered natural.

Ms. Malone arrived in Hollywood during the height of the studio era in the 1940s and appeared in dozens of movies, including westerns, musicals and crime dramas.

With an alluring voice and gaze, she first gained acclaim for a small role opposite Humphrey Bogart in the noirish 1946 detective film, “The Big Sleep.” She played a bookstore clerk who helps Bogart’s character, Philip Marlowe, identify a suspect, then eagerly shares a bottle of rye with him on a rainy day.

Actress Dorothy Malone with her mother and brother after winning her Academy Award in 1957. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

In 1954, Ms. Malone changed her dark hair color to blond for a role as Doris Day’s sister in “Young at Heart,” a musical also starring Frank Sinatra. The new look helped transform her career.

“I came up with a conviction that most of the winners in this business became stars overnight by playing shady dames with sex appeal,” she said in 1967. “And I’ve been unfaithful or drunk or oversexed almost ever since — on the screen, of course.”

Perhaps her finest role came in “Written on the Wind,” a 1956 melodrama set in her home state of Texas and directed by European emigre Douglas Sirk.

“An agent kept calling me that there is a director from Europe who wants you and only you,” Ms. Malone told the Chicago Tribune in 1985, explaining how she got the part. “He was every woman’s dream of a director. He was very Prussian, wore a scarf, and maybe he even had a walking stick. If he liked you, he was so much fun. I found him utterly charming.”

Ms. Malone played an oil baron’s spoiled daughter who wasn’t shy about satisfying her out-of-control desires. Her character, Marylee Hadley, drinks too much, smokes almost constantly, shimmies to mambo music in skintight gowns and tries to seduce various men, including Rock Hudson, who is in love with another woman, played by Lauren Bacall.

redcarIn one scene, Ms. Malone drives off with Hudson in a red convertible sports car.

“I’ll have you,” she says, giving him a beckoning, sidelong glance. “Marriage or no marriage.”

When Ms. Malone won her Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1957, presenter Jack Lemmon tried to get her to cut short her speech by putting his wristwatch in front of her.

Next Dorothy stared in Warlock, a 1959 western film directed by Edward Dmytryk and also starring Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn. The picture is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by American author Oakley Hall.

Fonda portrays Clay Blaisedell, a freelance marshal in the fictional town of Warlock with implacable methods of dealing with troublemakers. A subplot centers on Blaisedell’s club-footed assistant, Tom Morgan, played by Quinn, who has sublimated his relationships and ambition into a warped devotion to Blaisedell, the only person Morgan thinks does not look down on him for his disability.

Dorothy starred in two other films with Hudson, “The Tarnished Angels” (1957), a love triangle set in the Depression-era world of barnstorming pilots, directed by Sirk, and a 1961 western, “The Last Sunset,” which also featured Kirk Douglas.

In 1964, Ms. Malone received top billing on ABC’s “Peyton Place,” a wildly popular series based on Grace Metalious’s 1956 novel and two earlier movies. All in Hollywood told her doing television would kill her career but three Golden Globe nominations later Her character, Constance MacKenzie, a New England bookstore owner protecting a deep secret was a giant hit. Her daughter was played by Mia Farrow.

“Peyton Place” was the first prime-time soap opera on television. At its height, it had three episodes a week, featuring illicit love affairs, hidden identities and all manner of small-town hypocrisy.

Ms. Malone had to leave the production for a while in 1965 and 1966 after becoming severely ill from blood clots in her lungs. She was briefly replaced by Lola Albright before returning to the cast.

After she complained about her character’s lack of substance, Ms. Malone was written out of “Peyton Place” a year before it finished its run in 1969. She sued the show’s producers and received an out-of-court settlement. She returned to her role as Constance in two made-for-TV movies, “Murder in Peyton Place” (1977) and “Peyton Place: The Next Generation” (1985).

Dorothy Eloise Maloney was born Jan. 30, 1925, in Chicago and moved as an infant to Dallas. Her father was a telephone company auditor.

She was appearing in a student play at Southern Methodist University when she was signed to a Hollywood contract by the RKO studio. She later joined Warner Bros. and dropped the “y” in her last name.

Despite this positive movement, Warner Bros. did not extend Dorothy’s contract in 1949 and she returned willingly back to her tightly-knit family in Dallas. Taking a steadier job with an insurance agency, she happened to attend a work-related convention in New York City and grew fascinated with the big city. Deciding to recommit to her acting career, she moved to the Big Apple and studied at the American Theater Wing. In between her studies, she managed to find work on TV, which spurred freelancing “B” movie offers in the routine form of Saddle Legion (1951), The Bushwhackers (1951), the Martin & Lewis romp Scared Stiff (1953), Law and Order (1953) Jack Slade (1953), Pushover (1954) and Private Hell 36 (1954).

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Things picked up noticeably once Dorothy went platinum blonde, which seemed to emphasize her overt and sensual beauty. First off was as a sister to Doris Day in Young at Heart (1954), a musical remake of Four Daughters (1938), back at Warner Bros. She garnered even better attention when she appeared in the war pic Battle Cry (1955), in which she shared torrid love scenes with film’s newest heartthrob Tab Hunter, and continued the momentum with the reliable westerns Five Guns West (1955) and Tall Man Riding (1955) but not with melodramatic romantic dud Sincerely Yours (1955) which tried to sell to the audiences a heterosexual Liberace.

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By this time Dorothy had signed with Universal. Following a few more westerns for good measure (At Gunpoint (1955), Tension at Table Rock (1956) and Pillars of the Sky (1956), Dorothy won the scenery-chewing role of wild, nymphomaniac Marylee Hadley in the Douglas Sirk soap opera Written on the Wind (1956) co-starring Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall and Robert Stack. Both Stack and Malone had the showier roles and completely out-shined the two leads, earning supporting Oscar nominations in the process. Stack lost in his category but Dorothy nabbed the trophy for her splendidly tramp, boozed-up Southern belle which was highlighted by her writhing mambo dance.

In the 1976 miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man” and had roles in the 1979 political drama “Winter Kills” and 1992’s legal thriller “Basic Instinct,” playing a mother who killed her own children.

In 1979 Dorothy agrees to be in a Sci-fi fantasy film “The Day Time Ended” with Jim Davis. The abscure film tells the tale of Aliens that visit the solar-powered house of a middle-class family, and the house is suddenly sucked into a time warp that transports it back to various time dementions. This film has become somewhat of a cut classic and a favortite late night pleasure at our house. As with all projects Dorothy is mezmerising.

Dorothy first marriage, was to actor Jacques Bergerac, who was previously married to Ginger Rogers, ended in divorce. (“I wish Ginger had warned me what he was like,” she later said.)

Her second marriage, to Robert Tomarkin, who was later jailed in connection with financial crimes, was annulled. Her third marriage, to businessman Charles Huston Bell, ended in divorce.

Survivors include two daughters from her first marriage, Mimi Vanderstraaten and Diane Thompson, both of Dallas; a brother, retired U.S. Circuit Judge Robert B. Maloney of Dallas; and six grandchildren.

During the 1960s, Ms. Malone was reportedly one of the highest-paid actresses in television, earning $250,000 a year.

When asked by the Toronto Star in 1988 whether she was set for life, she replied: “Don’t you believe it. I had a husband who took me to the cleaners. The day after we were married, he was on the phone selling off my stuff.”

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A weary Dorothy returned and settled for good back in Dallas, returning to Hollywood only on occasion. Her last film was a cameo in the popular thriller Basic Instinct (1992) as a friend to Sharon Stone. She will be remembered as one of those Hollywood stars who proved she had the talent but somehow got the short end of the stick when it came to quality films offered.

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Dorothy, the actress, the bomshell, the loving mother has finally driven off in her red convertable for the last time, but thanks to Hollywood we can worship her from a far and hold her in our hearts forever.

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