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Thursday 21 August 2014

Dana Wynter

Actress found fame in sci-fi classic 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and went on to star in RTE soap 'Bracken'

Published 15/05/2011 | 05:00

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Dana Wynter, who died on May 5 aged 79, was a German-born actress who grew up in England but found fame in America as a creature from another planet -- in the celebrated sci-fi thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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However, from 1978 to 1980 she played Jill Daly in RTE's soap opera Bracken with Gabriel Byrne. It began her love affair with Ireland, where she bought a house in Co Wicklow.

A dark-haired, pale-skinned beauty, Wynter (playing Becky Driscoll) was more than qualified to scream and clutch the arm of her love interest, Dr Miles Bennell, played by Kevin McCarthy, as they fled (unsuccessfully, in her case) the extraterrestrial scourge. Filming got under way in 1955, at the height of Joseph McCarthy-inspired hysteria about Reds under the bed.

"It was just supposed to be a plain, thrilling kind of picture," Wynter recalled in 1999. "That was what Allied Artists thought they were making."

But after its release in 1956 it soon became clear that the plot, in which a small-town doctor learns that the population of America is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates grown in pods, was being credited with a double meaning.

Both the director, Don Siegel, and the scriptwriter, Dan Mainwaring, denied any such subtext.

But Wynter insisted that the cast "realised that we were making an anti-ism picture. Anti-fascism, anti-communism, all that kind of thing".

Certainly it is hard to avoid the hint of a political message when the leading man, desperately seeking to alert his fellow Americans to the looming menace, turns to camera and shouts: "They're here already. You're next."

Either way, the film was an instant box-office hit.

Dagmar Winter was born in Berlin on June 8, 1931, the daughter of a surgeon, Peter Winter. Her family soon moved to England. A few years later her parents divorced and she moved with her father to Southern Rhodesia. Following graduation from a private school she trained in Medicine at Rhodes University in South Africa. She also tried her hand at amateur theatre there, and returned to England in the early Fifties to take up acting seriously.

During a performance at the Hammersmith Apollo she was spotted by an American agent and a few bit-parts followed, including in Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), co-starring Diana Dors, and The Crimson Pirate (1952), with Burt Lancaster as the swashbuckling hero. In November 1953, having changed her name to Dana Wynter, she set out to try her luck in Hollywood.

There, despite initial disappointment in film, she started to carve out a career for herself in TV. In March 1955 she won a Golden Globe Award for "Most Promising Newcomer", and was placed under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, making her debut in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Despite excellent reviews Wynter was unable to replicate her success, appearing mostly in war movies -- such as D-Day the Sixth of June (1956) -- and on TV.

She appeared in a number of series, including Hart to Hart, The Rockford Files and Magnum PI, returning to the big screen for two cameo roles: in Airport, which reunited her with Burt Lancaster, and in Triangle (both 1970). Her final role in Hollywood was as Raymond Burr's wife in The Return of Ironside (1993).

However, in 1999, she returned to live in Hollywood full-time after deciding to give up her rural retreat in Wicklow.

The dry-stone thatched cottage on 15 acres in the Glenmacnass valley in Laragh in the heart of Co Wicklow was always close to the star's heart.

She once wrote: "Life in the house is excessively plain and we live without staff."

Surrounded by the mountains and with views of Glenmacnass waterfall, the main property had only two bedrooms. There was also a separate one-bedroom guesthouse on the land.

While in Wickow, Wynter became a great friend of the playwright Hugh Leonard. She also wrote occasional articles for the Irish Press.

Wynter was married to the Hollywood lawyer Greg Bautzer. She is survived by her son, who is an art dealer.

Sunday Independent

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