Flame-Haired Leading Lady Rhonda Fleming Dies @ 97

Golden Age of Hollywood leading lady Rhonda Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, California, ExtraTV reports. She was 97.

Fleming's death was confirmed by her secretary, but no cause was specified.

Born Marilyn Louis on August 10, 1923, in Los Angeles, her mother and grandfather were actors, but she was taken aback when she was discovered as a 16-year-old at Beverly Hills High by agent Henry Willson, who had a flair for renaming potential superstars — Arthur Gelien became Tab Hunter, Roy Scherer became Rock Hudson, and Marilyn Louis became ... Rhonda Fleming.

With Salvador Dali on the set of Spellbound (Image via UA)

After uncredited bit parts in several films, including the classic Since You Went Away (1944), she made her credited debut working for the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, in 1945's Spellbound. Told she would play a nymphomaniac, she had to look up the word, and blushed.

With Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (Image via RKO)

She continued to light up the screen in such films as The Spiral Staircase (1946) and the landmark noir film Out of the Past (1947) with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, of which she had been the last surviving cast member.

With Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Image via Paramount)

Another of her big hits of the era was in the color comedy A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949). The camera loved Fleming's green eyes and flame-red hair, and she (like Maureen O'Hara) was dubbed the "Queen of Technicolor."

Among her other films, some in 3-D, few as distinguished as her earlier work, were The Great Lover (1949) with Bob Hope, The Last Outpost (1951) with Ronald Reagan, The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951) with Glenn Ford, a turn as Cleopatra in Serpent of the Nile (1953), Slightly Scarlet (1956) with John Payne, and an important starring role in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster.

By 1957, Fleming had debuted a wildly successful Las Vegas revue that emphasized her glamour and her curves, and cut a sultry album in 1958. After 1960, Fleming, financially secure thanks to savvy investments, mostly made untaxing TV guest spots on such series as Follow the Sun (1962), McMillan & Wife (1974), and The Love Boat (1978).

A broadly comic role in The Nude Bomb (Image via Universal)

Fleming's final film roles were in the celeb-packed Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), spoofing herself as "Rhonda Flaming," and in the Get Smart film The Nude Bomb (1980).

Coming out of retirement, the deeply religious Fleming gave her final performance in the Christian-themed short Waiting for the Wind in 1990, reuniting with Robert Mitchum.

For the past 60 years, Fleming had been an activist on behalf of prayer in schools and in support of women's health, abused children (Childhelp), battered women, cancer causes, the homeless (P.A.T.H.), and other charities. She established the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic for Comprehensive Care for Women with Cancer at UCLA, the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center at UCLA, and the Rhonda Fleming Inspiration Garden at Providence Saint John's Health Center.

Fleming also contributed to various film restoration projects, including her own Cry Danger (1951), appearing at a screening for the film in 2010 in her late 80s looking decades younger.

Married six times, Fleming was widowed in 2017. She is survived by her son, Kent Lane, four stepchildren, two grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

1 Response

  1. Deeply religious and married 6 times. That’s rich. I guess all that prayer in schools she wanted didn’t help much.

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