Actress who found fame in Forties Hollywood as a siren in costume dramas, writes Tom Vallance
The actress Patricia Medina, who died on April 28, was a beautiful brunette whose striking features were suited to costume melodrama. British-born, she had a modest career before moving to Hollywood with her first husband, the actor Richard Greene. Though she played leading lady to such stars as Douglas Fairbanks Jr and Alan Ladd, she never attained major star status, though she was a spirited performer and voluptuous siren in several swashbucklers and occasionally revealed a flair for comedy. Her second husband was another actor, Joseph Cotten, whose career included Citizen Kane, Shadow of a Doubt, Duel in the Sun and The Third Man, and theirs was considered one of Hollywood's happiest marriages, lasting until his death in 1995.
The middle sister of three, Patricia Medina was born in Liverpool in 1918 to a British mother and Spanish father, Laureano Medina. She was educated at Tolmers Park, an exclusive boarding school in Hertfordshire, but spent the summers abroad with her parents, who would let out their large house in Stanmore.
One of their lessees was film producer Joe Rock, who had a studio in Elstree. A studio test led to her film debut with a one-line role in Dinner at the Ritz (1937) starring David Niven. She played her first leading role, in Simply Terrific (1938) starring Claude Hulbert, and followed it with Secret Journey (1939).
The wartime drama The Day Will Dawn (1942), in which she played a Norwegian girl, and They Met in the Dark (1943) with James Mason, followed her marriage to Greene, who was under contract to 20th Century Fox in Hollywood. He had returned to the UK to fulfil military duties during the Second World War, though hearing difficulties eventually freed him, and he starred with Medina in the quirky comedy satirising British tradition, Don't Take It To Heart (1944).
Greene was then summoned back to Hollywood, where Medina was tested by MGM and given a role in the psychological drama The Secret Heart (1946), starring Claudette Colbert.
Greene was having problems with his career (he found his greatest fame starring as Robin Hood on British television), and the marriage foundered. "We were both so young," Medina was to confess. "We were a nice, handsome couple who should have been brother and sister." They were divorced in 1951, a year after Medina starred in Fortunes of Captain Blood, as the first of several swashbuckler heroines with which she would become identified.
She was also a droll comic foil in Abbott and Costello in The Foreign Legion and opposite Donald O'Connor in Francis (both 1950), in both of which she played a voluptuous French spy. She supported Alan Ladd and James Mason in Botany Bay (1953) and the following year she returned to the UK to appear opposite Ladd again in the Viking adventure, The Black Knight. The following year she had a rewarding role in Orson Welles' troubled production, Mr Arkadin (aka Confidential Report) -- later she was to call Welles the greatest director she worked with.
Medina and Joseph Cotten (a widower) married in 1960. They were described by the reporter Vernon Scott as "a curious pair. She is a vivacious extrovert, Cotten a gentlemanly Virginian, a quiet, considerate man".
Medina was a deliciously wicked Queen in Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961), with skating star Carol Heiss as her daughter, but roles were scarce in the 1960s, and her last notable role was that of a dominatrix in Robert Aldrich's stage hit The Killing of Sister George (1968). She made her Broadway debut with Cotten in 1962, in the thriller Calculated Risk. They did much stage work, including a successful tour of The Reluctant Debutante, and Medina spent several months as a regular panellist on the British version of the television show What's My Line?
In 1981, Cotten had a massive stroke, and later developed throat cancer. Medina nursed him until his death in 1995. In her autobiography, Laid Back in Hollywood (1998), she wrote: "All of these years later, I ponder and wonder why I didn't become a bigger star. The only blame was mine, my stupidity. Since the start I had always wanted to play comedy parts, and not until many years later and on the stage did I play comedy successfully. In movies, I was never offered anything but sexy bad girls."