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Rhonda Fleming, Queen of Technicolor, Dies in Santa Monica at Age 97

Rhonda Fleming, Queen of Technicolor, Dies in Santa Monica at Age 97

Rhonda Fleming, the actress known as the “The Queen of Technicolor,” has died aged 97. Carla Sapon, Fleming’s personal assistant, said the actress died on Wednesday in Santa Monica, California. She appeared in numerous flicks with greats such as Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan, and other films of the 40s and 50s.

Fleming became very renowned starting from when she first starred in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” (1949) alongside Bing Crosby. She quickly became producers’ favorite due to her lustrous natural coloring. It was the sort of attention she didn’t want for herself.

Fleming once said the way she looked probably took away much focus from the roles she portrayed, and this made her uncomfortable, Variety reports.

“Suddenly, my eyes were green. My red hair was flaming red. My skin was porcelain white,” she was said during an interview in the 90s. “There was suddenly all this attention on how I looked rather than the roles I was playing. I’d been painted into a corner by the studios, who never wanted more from me than a parade of films like the Redhead and the Cowboy.”

Long before Ronald Reagan’s foray into politics, Fleming co-starred four movies with him – “Hong Kong,” “Tropic Zone,” “The Last Outpost,” and “Tennessee’s Partner.” When asked her opinion on Reagan, she said he was totally modest, unlike other actors who were self-absorbed. According to her, never for once did he look at the mirror during a performance.

Many of Hollywood greats were discovered by chance. An agent discovered Charlize Theron after she threw a fit in a banking hall because the bank would not cash an international check from her mom. Her theatrics were impassioned enough to attract an agent. Marilyn Monroe was discovered by a photographer in a munition factory. Fleming’s story shares a similar plot, albeit more a quirky plot. She was headed for class at Beverly Hills High School when an agent followed her in a car and told her that she ought to be in pictures.  That agent was Henry Wilson, a renowned Hollywood agent who also managed the likes of Rock Hudson and Robert Wagner.

The young Fleming, named Marilyn Louis at birth, was offered a six-month contract at the David O’ Selznick and given the new name – Rhonda Fleming. She was part of the 1944 war-time drama “Since You Went Away,” and then she played the role of a nymphomaniac in Director Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”. She starred with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck in the movie. Fleming said she was so naïve that she had to look up the meaning of her role.

She starred in other films such as the suspense-themed flick, “The Spiral Staircase”. As a freelancer, having left Selznick studios, she worked in films like “Abilene Town,” “Out of the Past,” “Adventure Island”.

It was Bing Crosby that recommended her to Bob Hope, having seen her impressive performance in “A Connecticut Yankee”.

Many of her unforgettable films include “While the City Sleeps,” “Serpent of the Nile” where she played Cleopatra, “The Eagle and the Hawk,” “The Last Outpost,” “Little Egypt,” “The Killer Is Loose,” “Slightly Scarlet,” “Those Redheads from Seattle,” and “Pony Express”.

Fleming took a break from acting for a singing career. She also appeared in TV shows and commercials. She married her first husband, Thomas Lane, in her teens. He was a high school sweetheart. The couple had a son named Kent in 1941. The marriage ended in 1947 due to her newfound fame. Her three other marriages also ended in divorce – to Surgeon Lewis Morrill (1952-1958); actor Lang Jeffries (1960-1962), and producer Hall Bartlett (1966-1972). She later married Ted Mann, owner of the Mann Theatre chain, whose death occurred in 2001. Fleming married for the sixth time to Derol W. Carlson, who died in 2017.

She is survived by her son, Kent Lane, stepchildren, granddaughters, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren.


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