Rhonda Fleming, Hollywood actress who starred alongside Ronald Reagan, dies at 97

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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 passed away. She was 97 years old.

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

From his first color film, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1949) starring Bing Crosby, Fleming became extremely popular with producers because of his vivid hues. It was an attraction she would regret later.

Fleming poses for a studio portrait. She was originally called Marilyn Louis before her agent changed her name

Rhonda Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., Her assistant shared. She was 97 (pictured in 2010, left and in 1945, right)

Fleming, a fiery redhead appeared with major Hollywood men in the 1940s, including Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, and Ronald Reagan. She is pictured with Reagan in Hong Kong in 1954

Fleming, a fiery redhead appeared with major Hollywood men in the 1940s, including Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, and Ronald Reagan. She is pictured with Reagan in Hong Kong in 1954

“Suddenly my green eyes were green. My red hair was a blazing red. My skin was porcelain white, ”Fleming said in an interview in 1990.“ Suddenly there was all this attention to my appearance rather than the roles I was playing.

“I had been painted in a corner by the studios, who never wanted more of me than my good looks and waltzed through a parade of films like ‘The Redhead and the Cowboy’. ‘

Before Reagan entered politics, the actress starred with him in “Hong Kong”, “Tropic Zone”, “The Last Outpost” and “Tennessee’s Partner”.

“He surprised everyone because he’s never looked at himself in a mirror,” she once said of Reagan. “How many actors can you say that?

Fleming was known for her work in Hollywood movies of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as her appearance.

Fleming was known for her work in Hollywood movies of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as her appearance.

Fleming flourished as a singer and dancer during the first appearance of her nightclub career at the New Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas in 1957

Fleming flourished as a singer and dancer during the first appearance of her nightclub career at the New Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas in 1957

Before Reagan entered politics, the actress starred with him in

Before Reagan entered politics, the actress starred with him in “Hong Kong”, “Tropic Zone”, “The Last Outpost” (pictured) and “Tennessee’s Partner”.

Fleming had a beautiful singing voice, and later in her career she sang on stage in Las Vegas and on tour.

In the era of the big studios, many new personalities have been announced as having been discovered in a quirky way: Kim Novak while cycling in front of an agent’s office, Lana Turner spotted in a malt house.

In Fleming’s case, young Marilyn Louis reportedly went to class at Beverly Hills High School when a man followed her in a big black car and said, “You should be in the picture. She escaped him, but he showed up at her house and offered to be her agent.

Legend or not, at 19, Louis got a six-month contract at David O. Selznick’s studio and a new name: Rhonda Fleming. She played a small role in the 1944 war drama “Since You Went Away”, then Alfred Hitchcock chose her to play a nymphomaniac in “Spellbound”, along with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

Fleming reads in his penthouse apartment in Rome in 1955

Fleming reads in his penthouse apartment in Rome in 1955

“I rushed home and my mom and I looked up ‘nymphomaniac’ in the dictionary,” she recalls. “We were both shocked.

“Spellbound” led to another thriller, “The Spiral Staircase,” in which she was strangled by villain, George Brent. With Selznick focusing on the career of his wife, Jennifer Jones, he lost interest in his contract players and Fleming left the studio to go independent.

His next films: “Abilene Town”, a western by Randolph Scott; “Out of the Past”, a film noir starring Robert Mitchum; and “Adventure Island,” a tropical thriller starring Rory Calhoun.

She won a role in “A Connecticut Yankee,” a Crosby musical based on the Mark Twain story, after Deanna Durbin dropped out to retire in France. Crosby was so impressed that he recommended her to Bob Hope, whom she starred with on “The Great Lover”.

Ironically, the Crosby / Hope films that established her as a luminary turned out to be films she was never able to dominate. She remained a star for 15 years, but with the exception of Lancaster-Douglas’ ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’, most of her performances came in B-frames that exploited her looks.

Flemings married a total of five times. Photographed in 1978 with her last husband, Ted Mann

Flemings married a total of five times. Photographed in 1978 with her last husband, Ted Mann

Richard M. Nixon, then Republican candidate for governor of California, speaks with Fleming, actor George Murphy and actress-singer Jane Powell in Hollywood in 1962

Richard M. Nixon, then Republican candidate for governor of California, speaks with Fleming, actor George Murphy and actress-singer Jane Powell in Hollywood in 1962

“I made the mistake of making lesser films for money,” she said in an interview in 1976. “I was hot – they all wanted me – but I didn’t had neither the advice nor the experience to judge for myself. “

Among his films from the 1950s is “While the City Sleeps”, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Dana Andrews. She played Cleopatra in the 1953 film “Serpent of the Nile”.

But many titles were forgettable: ‘The Eagle and the Hawk’, ‘The Last Outpost’, ‘Little Egypt’, ‘The Killer Is Loose’, ‘Slightly Scarlet’, ‘Crosswinds’ and ‘Pony Express’ (with Charlton Heston ), “Inferno”, “These redheads from Seattle”, “Yankee Pasha” and “Gun Glory”.

After her film career cooled off, Fleming took a singing act in Las Vegas, appeared in television shows and commercials, performed on Broadway in a cover of “The Women” and sang as the temptress Lalume. in “Kismet” for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.

She was born in Los Angeles in 1923. Her mother, Effie Graham, had appeared in a Broadway musical in 1914 with Al Jolson, and her grandfather was a theater producer in Salt Lake City. She studied acting, but as a substitute she also took courses in shorthand, typing and accounting.

Fleming dans le film Paramount 1957 The Buster Keaton Story

Fleming dans le film Paramount 1957 The Buster Keaton Story

Fleming in 1947 under director Cecil B DeMille (left) alongside Tay Garnett (right)

Fleming in 1947 under director Cecil B DeMille (left) alongside Tay Garnett (right)

While still a teenager, Fleming married her high school sweetheart, Thomas Lane. A son, Kent, was born in 1941. When Lane returned from military service, Rhonda had become a star and the marriage ended in 1947. Three other marriages also ended in divorce, with the Beverly Hills surgeon , Lewis Morrill (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 chain, and the marriage lasted until his death in 2001. For many years, they lived in 4,300 square foot condominiums, the on top of each other in a high rise Century City. “I cherish my privacy, and Ted needs his,” she explained one day. “We love each other very much. I am much more fulfilled today than at any time in my life.

After Fleming’s sister, Beverly Engel, died of cancer in 1991, Fleming and her husband established the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center for Women with Cancer at UCLA Medical Center. They were also active in various other charities for cancer patients, children and the homeless.

A few years after Mann’s death, Fleming married for the sixth time Derol W. Carlson, who died in 2017.

Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming on the set of Alexander Hall's The Great Lover

Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming on the set of Alexander Hall’s The Great Lover

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