Thursday 18 January 2018

Audrey Totter

Hollywood actress who was one of film noir's leading femme fatales

VERSATILE: Audrey Totter
VERSATILE: Audrey Totter

AUDREY Totter, who has died aged 95, epitomised the tough, hard-boiled blonde femme fatale during the Hollywood heyday of film noir, dark crime dramas that proliferated in the Forties and Fifties.

She was a performer of great versatility, ranging from the murderous floozy Claire Quimby in Tension (1950), and the long-suffering wife of Robert Ryan in The Set-Up (1949), to John Garfield's saucy girlfriend in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), co-starring Lana Turner.

She was also adept at comedy, as in The Sailor Takes a Wife (1946); Westerns, such as Woman They Almost Lynched (1953); and family dramas like My Pal Gus (1952).

Audrey Mary Totter was born on December 20, 1917 in Joliet, Illinois. Her father was Austrian, her mother Swedish.

In New York, she became a favourite of radio producers, one of whom dubbed her "The Girl of 1,000 Voices". Although hoping to break into the Broadway scene, she accepted MGM's offer of a film contract. The studio trained her to sing, dance and act, she took tennis and riding lessons, and was taught to swim in the MGM pool used by Esther Williams. Audrey Totter made her film debut in Main Street After Dark (1944).

Most of her early films were "programme pictures" -- short second features. "Lionel Barrymore once told me I would not become a big star because I was too versatile," she recalled. "He was right. I never became a Hedy Lamarr or a Lana Turner. But then I never had their burning ambition either."

After The Postman Always Rings Twice, Audrey Totter appeared in a screen adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake (1947), with Robert Montgomery as the private eye Philip Marlowe.

She received top billing in The High Wall (1947), and in the same year her character was murdered by Claude Rains in The Unsuspected. She appeared in Beginning of the End (1947), about the atom bomb, and played second fiddle to Ray Milland in another forgotten noir gem, Alias Nick Beal (1949).

Towards the end of her contract, Audrey Totter starred with Clark Gable in Any Number Can Play (1950), which she considered "just awful".

"MGM were putting me in terrible films that damaged my star status," she said. "Gable knew I was terribly unhappy and did all he could to get me off the picture. I found Gable a caring and sensitive man, not at all like the rough and tumble characters he so often played on screen."

She subsequently signed with Columbia, but when she met her future husband, Fred Leo, a doctor, she reduced her working hours. After the birth of her daughter, she confined herself to small parts in television series such as Rawhide, with Clint Eastwood.

Irish Independent

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