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Actress Rhonda Fleming (1923-2020)


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Rhonda Fleming, the glamorous, flame-haired movie star who appeared in more than 40 pictures, died Wednesday at the age of 97. Her death at the  Saint John's Health Center in  Santa Monica, California, was confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter by her secretary Carla Sapon.

She was a longtime supporter of Turner Classic Movies. The photo below was taken during an appearance at the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival.

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As the late Robert Osborne once observed: "Back in the 1940s and '50s, when Hollywood studios were pretty much run like factories, whenever a film needed a beautiful heroine...one of three ladies was usually called first -- Maureen O'Hara...Rhonda Fleming...and Arlene Dahl...All beautiful and each the perfect image of the heroine whom one would be willing to fight over."

Born in Hollywood, Fleming (real name: Marilyn Louis) was the daughter of an insurance salesman and a onetime stage actress. After her graduation from Beverly Hills High School, she was noticed by the legendary agent Henry Wilson (his clients also included  Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue and Rory Calhoun). He changed her name and became instrumental in her association with producer David O. Selznick, who gave her contract.

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One of Fleming's noteworthy early screen appearances was in Sir Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 thriller "Spellbound," which starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. She appeared briefly as Mary Carmichael, a Vermont mental hospital patient who consulted with Dr. Constance Petersen (Bergman).

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Fleming earned the nickname "Queen of Technicolor" because of how great she looked in color films. But she also looked sensational in productions such as "The Spiral Staircase" (1946). Directed by Robert Siodmak, the psychological thriller starred the actress as a secretary who became a murder victim in a Vermont town. The drama also starred Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore, Kent Smith, Gordon Oliver and Elsa Lanchester.

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 In the classic 1947 film noir "Out of the Past," Fleming appeared as the scheming secretary Meta Carson opposite Robert Mitchum as a onetime private detective involved in intrigue. Directed by Jacques Tourneur ("Cat People"), the drama also starred Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas,, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine, Dickie Moore and Ken Niles. The film was based on the 1946 novel "Build My Gallows High" by Daniel Mainwaring. 

Rhonda Fleming and Robert Mitchum (Out of the Past)

Fleming sang "When Is Sometime" and performed the duet "Once and for Always" with Bing Crosby in the 1949 musical fantasy "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court." Both songs were written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. The production was based on Mark Twain's 1889 tale of a 19th-century man magically transported to England in the 6th century. Directed by Tay Garnett, the film also featured Sir Cedric Hardwicke, William Bendix, Murvyn Vye, Virginia Field and Alan Napier.

Also in 1949, Fleming co-starred with Bob Hope for the first time in "The Great Lover." Directed by Alexander Hall, the comedy cast Hope as a scout troop leader who romanced a duchess (Fleming) and encountered a clever serial killer (Roland Young) on a boat trip home from Paris .
The Great Lover (1949) - Rotten Tomatoes
Based on the 1948 novel by the African-American historical novelist Frank Yerby (1916-1991), "The Golden Hawk" starred Sterling Hayden as a French pirate who had sworn vengeance against Spain's Captain Luis del Toro (John Sutton), whom he blamed for his mother's death. What Gerardo didn't know was that Del Toro was innocent of any wrongdoing -- plus he happened to be his father. Meanwhile, Gerardo developed a hot-and-cold relationship with Captain Rouge (Fleming), a redheaded female profiteer with secrets of her own. The 1952 action adventure was directed by Sidney Salkow.

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The 1951 Civil War drama "The Last Outpost" marked the first teaming of Fleming and Ronald Reagan. He and Bruce Bennett played brothers fighting on different sides during the conflict (Reagan's character wore gray). Fleming played the Confederate cavalryman's onetime fiancée. Somehow, they all managed to put their differences aside during battles with Apaches in the American Southwest. Fleming and Reagan went on to co-star in "Hong Kong" (1952), "Tropic Zone" (1953) and "Tennessee's Partner" (1955).
 
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In John Sturges' 1957 Western "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," Fleming played Laura Denbow, a Dodge City, Kansas newcomer who became involved with  lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster). The film, which re-created the legendary 1881 shootout  between the Earp brothers/Doc Holliday and the Clanton gang in Tombstone, Arizona, also starred Kirk Douglas (as Holliday),  Jo Van Fleet and John Ireland.
 
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)
 
The 1958 drama "Home Before Dark" starred Jean Simmons as a troubled who returns to her husband (Dan O'Herlihy) after a year spent in a mental institution. Other members of the household are her stepmother (Mabel Albertson) and stepsister (Fleming), whom she resents. Directed by Mervyn Leroy, the film also starred Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Joanna Barnes.
 
Jean Simmons and Rhonda Fleming in Home Before Dark (1958)
 
In 1959, Fleming reunited with Hope in the Western comedy "Alias Jesse James." The film starred Hope as an insurance agent who became mistaken for the title outlaw (played by Wendell Corey). Directed by Norman Z. McLeod, the film featured a climactic gun battle with cameos by numerous Western  movie and TV legends (among them: Gary Cooper, Roy Rogers, James Arness, Hugh O'Brian, Fess Parker, Jay Silverheels and a longtime Hope co-star).
 
 

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RIP Rhonda Fleming. She's pictured at her imprint ceremony in 1981.
 
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She had an interesting film career. She did especially well in noir, action adventures and westerns in the 1950s.

TCM doesn't play the Paramount films she made that include:

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT (1949)
THE GREAT LOVER (1949)
THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK (1950)
THE LAST OUTPOST (1951)
CROSSWINDS (1951)
HONG KONG (1952)
TROPIC ZONE (1953)
PONY EXPRESS (1953)
THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE (1953)
JIVARO (1954)
GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957)

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I just read this elsewhere.  That's a shame.  Another link to the Golden Age has passed.  I really like Rhonda Fleming.  She's really great in film noir like Cry Danger, Out of the Past, The Spiral Staircase, While the City Sleeps, and Spellbound.  I want to see her in Slightly Scarlett. 

RIP Miss Fleming. 

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Sad. Always enjoyed watching her performances.,Ms. Fleming was a great beauty and didn't look her age., She was much more than a great beauty and actress. She was involved in many charitrable causes. Ms. Fleming and her husband founded the Jeruslem Film Institute in Israel. She extablished the Women's Comprhensive Care of UCLA Medical Center. A Center for Women with cancer. Also involved in Alzheimers Research. and many more philanthropic causes.

RIP Rhonda Fleming

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12 hours ago, TopBilled said:

TCM doesn't play the Paramount films she made

TCM has played Gunfight at the OK Corral a few times, which is where I first saw it. I ended up buying it on DVD. Generally, I don't care much for Westerns, but other than Stagecoach, this is probably my favorite Western.

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did anybody mention Inferno where she and her accomplice William Lundigan try to knock off her husband Robert Ryan (in a rare good role) in the desert.

it was the inspiration for the 1973 TV-movie Ordeal with Arthur Hill, Diana Muldaur and Earl Holliman.

Inferno | Movies ala Mark

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16 minutes ago, sewhite2000 said:

TCM has played Gunfight at the OK Corral a few times, which is where I first saw it. I ended up buying it on DVD. Generally, I don't care much for Westerns, but other than Stagecoach, this is probably my favorite Western.

Of the ones I listed, A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL are the only Paramount films of hers that occasionally (but very seldom) get played on TCM. And the programmers are not choosing those titles because of her, they are choosing them because of Bing Crosby, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

If she had been an MGM contract player, then TCM would have given her several tributes by now.

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2 minutes ago, NipkowDisc said:

did anybody mention Inferno where she and her accomplice William Lundigan try to knock off her husband Robert Ryan (in a rare good role) in the desert.

This is a great film...that she did on loan out to 20th Century Fox.

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4 hours ago, Det Jim McLeod said:

R.I.P, the most ravishing redhead ever on film

Rhonda Fleming Movies | Ultimate Movie Rankings

Both Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl were ravishing redheads.  I wish they could have played sisters in a film.   Both Rhonda and Doris Day (2019) were 97 when they died.  Will this age be the new norm?  A good long life!

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Rhonda Fleming never had a definitive role in one major film by which she will be best remembered. But did this lady ever lend a beautiful, gracious presence to countless programmers and a handful of good films. Slightly Scarlet, Cry Danger, The Spiral Staircase, Inferno and such lightweight fare as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Yankee Pasha and Alias Jesse James, among others, were all the better for Rhonda's contributions to them. She did more than her share of cheesecake (for which many male viewers were eternally grateful), but was also allowed to graduate, on the occasion, to more dramatic film fare.

Not long ago I saw a dark haired Fleming for the first time as Cleopatra in Serpent of the Nile. Pretty campy stuff, teaming her with a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr as Marc Antony. But, silly as a cardboard costumer like this might be, it was always a pleasure to watch Miss Fleming, whether she was playing a heroine or seductress.

 

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RIP,  Rhonda Fleming

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9 minutes ago, filmnoirguy said:

Both Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl were ravishing redheads.  I wish they could have played sisters in a film.   Both Rhonda and Doris Day (2019) were 97 when they died.  Will this age be the new norm?  A good long life!

They did, in Slightly Scarlet. Arlene is still with us.

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5 minutes ago, TomJH said:

They did, in Slightly Scarlet. Arlene is still with us.

Here's a scene from the movie featuring both actresses. 

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Dahl also has been a longtime supporter of Turner Classic Movies. In fact, she was present at the creation of the cable channel. She was one of the notables who attended the Times Square ceremony that marked the launch of TCM on April 14, 1994.

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26 minutes ago, jakeem said:

Here's a scene from the movie featuring both actresses. 

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Dahl also has been a longtime supporter of Turner Classic Movies. In fact, she was present at the creation of the cable channel. She was one of the notables who attended the Times Square ceremony that marked the launch of TCM on April 14, 1994.

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Arlene Dahl graduated from the same high school my two (now adult) children graduated from.  So, of course, I had to show them a couple of her movies at the time.  Will try to find Slightly Scarlet if its available.

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The year-end 'TCM Remembers' in a couple of months will be particularly sad, I think.  We lose more stars from Hollywood's Golden Age, meaning there are fewer and fewer of them still around.  It's also a bummer because it reminds us that each year, we take one more step toward the Grim Reaper.  Still, it's something I look forward to watching.  It's a great tribute to the men and women who entertained us through the years, and the lasting legacy of their work, thanks to stations like TCM and film preservationists will be around long after they and we enter the great beyond.

After she died last year, I thought Doris Day would be the final star featured in the memorial, and I was right on that one.  Who will get the prominent end-spot this time?  Olivia de Havilland?  Kirk Douglas?  Either would be a nice choice.

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