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With her lush red hair and signature beauty mark, Arlene Dahl joined the court of MGM royalty in late 1940s and early 1950s, soon becoming more an icon of womanly elegance than of thespian prowess. A Minnesota native, Dahl followed the standard pattern of fresh-scrubbed, Midwestern girl-makes-it-big, whose ravishing looks and curvaceous figure vaulted her from beer advertising to the silver screen almost overnight. Paired early in films with Red Skelton and Van Johnson, she largely played the role of eye-candy, often in color-filmed adventures and fluffy comedies. She distinguished herself more in smaller films with more textured roles, including as a vampy French conspirator in "Reign of Terror" (1949) and a felonious temptress in "Slightly Scarlet" (1956). The limelight fell on her personal life as well, via celebrity couplings with "Tarzan" Lex Barker and "Latin Lover" Fernando Lamas, both tempestuous unions and the first of her many marriages. A colorful sci-fi splash in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959) signified the apex of her film career, but she had already established a plan B as a beauty and fashion maven via a syndicated newspaper column, which she would expand into a book...
With her lush red hair and signature beauty mark, Arlene Dahl joined the court of MGM royalty in late 1940s and early 1950s, soon becoming more an icon of womanly elegance than of thespian prowess. A Minnesota native, Dahl followed the standard pattern of fresh-scrubbed, Midwestern girl-makes-it-big, whose ravishing looks and curvaceous figure vaulted her from beer advertising to the silver screen almost overnight. Paired early in films with Red Skelton and Van Johnson, she largely played the role of eye-candy, often in color-filmed adventures and fluffy comedies. She distinguished herself more in smaller films with more textured roles, including as a vampy French conspirator in "Reign of Terror" (1949) and a felonious temptress in "Slightly Scarlet" (1956). The limelight fell on her personal life as well, via celebrity couplings with "Tarzan" Lex Barker and "Latin Lover" Fernando Lamas, both tempestuous unions and the first of her many marriages. A colorful sci-fi splash in "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959) signified the apex of her film career, but she had already established a plan B as a beauty and fashion maven via a syndicated newspaper column, which she would expand into a book series and a lucrative career in advertising and the beauty products industry. After going bankrupt in the early 1970s, Dahl returned to show business for a smattering of television projects, highlighted by a three-year stint on the soap opera, "One Life to Live" (ABC, 1968- ), and would reinvent herself again as a celebrity astrologer. She wound down her screen career with intermittent appearances in projects starring her son, Lorenzo Lamas. A star of stage, screen and business, Dahl turned her relatively short stint as the toast of Hollywood into a launch pad to become a kind of pre-feminist Renaissance woman.
She was born Arlene Carol Dahl in Minneapolis, MN, on August 11, in either 1924 or 1928 (depending on the source), the daughter of Rudolph Dahl, a car dealer, and his wife, Idelle. She showed early proclivities for performance, beginning dance classes at Dorothy Lundstrom's School of Dance, Charm and Fashion at age five, and acting in plays as early as grade school at Minneapolis's Margaret Fuller Elementary. By the end of seventh grade, during which she starred as Becky Thatcher in a production of "Tom Sawyer," she decided she wanted to be an actor, and supplemented her regimen with voice lessons at the nearby Minneapolis College of Music. Attending Washburn High, she became an honor student, sang with the glee club, participated in school productions and even showed flare for fashion design. After Washburn, she picked up modeling work and landed a job at Marshall Fields department store in Chicago, but soon moved to New York City, where she netted a small part in the short run of the Broadway musical "Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston." The next year, New York's popular Rheingold Brewery tapped her to be the latest face of its ongoing Rheingold Beer Girl ad campaign. From there, she drew the attention of Warner Bros.' Studio head Jack Warner, who signed her to a studio contract. She made her film debut in 1947 with a bit part in "Life With Father," before garnering the romantic lead in the musical "My Wild Irish Rose" (1947), playing opposite Dennis Morgan as the muse of the famous Irish song. Shot in Technicolor, the film would set a precedent of color projects that would exploit her dazzling titian tresses. Apropos of which, after her brief tenure with Warners, MGM soon added her to its lineup of glamorous superstars. The studio gave her a supporting turn as a heartbreaker opposite Van Johnson in "The Bride Goes Wild" (1948), then as Red Skelton's love interest in his zany Civil War adventure, "A Southern Yankee" (1948). It was during this period that Dahl casually dated the junior senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.
MGM paired her with Johnson again, the fretting cop's wife to his hardboiled detective, in the dark crime film "Scene of the Crime" (1949), establishing noir bona fides that would recur with her turn as a demanding fiancée of a scheming insurance man in "No Questions Asked" (1951). Dahl showed off a bit more range as an intriguing vixen for director Anthony Mann in his French Revolution adventure "Reign of Terror" (1949), and she carved something of a niche as a disproportionately elegant but tough-beyond-her-beauty female lead in a series of mostly forgettable Westerns. She was paired with Skelton again in the Tin Pan Alley musical comedy "Three Little Words" (1950), co-starring Fred Astaire, and in the romantic caper comedy "Watch the Birdie" (1950). Dahl's offscreen press picked up in 1950 as she married handsome Lex Barker, best known as the latest big screen Tarzan, and began a syndicated newspaper column, "Let's Be Beautiful," for the Chicago Tribune New York News Syndicate. She would continue to write a thrice-a-week column for 20 years; the marriage proved to be a considerably shorter-term proposition, being fraught with conflict and ending in divorce within months. Barker would move on to another disastrous marriage with another MGM glamour-girl, Lana Turner; the Sweater Girl and Dahl would share their share of lovers, including Fernando Lamas, as well. In 1954, Dahl continued to expand her cultural imprint, leveraging her renown into the incorporation of Arlene Dahl Enterprises, through which she marketed a line of cosmetics and personally designed nightgowns. The next year she made a splash in the new medium of television, briefly taking hosting duties on the new ABC anthology series "The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse" (1953-55), as well as appearing again on Broadway, this time as Roxane in "Cyrano de Bergerac," starring José Ferrer in the title role. Back in Hollywood, she moved to Paramount Pictures, starring in a string of adventure films such as "Caribbean" (1952), "Desert Legion" (1953) "Jamaica Run" (1953).
She returned to comedy opposite Bob Hope in "Here Come the Girls" (1953), and the same year starred in the antebellum period melodrama "Sangaree" (1953), where the on-camera sparks with smoldering Argentine import Fernando Lamas continued off the set. The duo reunited in "The Diamond Queen" (1953), with Dahl curiously cast as an Indian princess caught up in a swashbuckling adventure of a Frenchman (Lamas) on the subcontinent as he seeks the perfect diamond. The couple would marry in 1954. Cut loose by Paramount, she went freelance, starting with 20th Century Fox in a stand-out role as the brassy, social-climbing wife of business executive Van Heflin in "A Woman's World." Back in an Indian milieu, she played romantic interest to a young Rock Hudson in "Bengal Brigade" (1954) for Universal, but her film career by the mid-1950s began giving way to TV work, especially one-off roles in other anthology shows, including in the Ingrid Bergman role of Ilsa for a 1955 "Lux Video Theatre" (CBS/NBC, 1950-59) version of the film classic "Casablanca" (1941). Back on the big screen in 1956, she distinguished herself again as a noir dame, playing kleptomaniac bad-girl compromising a city political boss in "Slightly Scarlet," for RKO. Dahl found herself in demand in the U.K., upping her femme fatale ante even more in "Wicked as They Come" (imported to the U.S. by Columbia in 1956 as "Portrait in Smoke"), as woman of humble origins who schemes her way into high society, and worked with English leading man Jack Hawkins in "Fortune Is a Woman" (1957). Following a fallow period in which she bore Lamas a son, Lorenzo - who would later become a famous actor on the television show "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-1990) - she returned to Fox for what would effectively be her big-budget Hollywood swansong, another brassy, headstrong adventuress on a dangerous expedition in the lavish color treatment of Jules Verne's sci-fi classic, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959).
Her days as a leading lady now effectively over, the marriage to Lamas, a domineering partner and notorious womanizer, also ended in 1960, with Dahl citing mental cruelty on his part in divorce proceedings. She would be married again before the year to Texas oilman Chris Holmes, beginning a run of four more husbands, none of whom were of show business issue. Her career diverged in 1962, with Dahl showing off her song-and-dance chops again via a variety show at the famous Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV, which she would later take to New York's famous Latin Quarter club. In 1963, she returned to the small screen in "Burke's Law" (ABC, 1963-66), the notoriously preposterous action show about a millionaire playboy police detective; Dahl had a curious run of four non-consecutive episodes as four different characters over two years. Back to the big screen, Dahl played the vivacious former roommate of the first female President of the U.S. (Polly Bergen) and temptress to her husband (James Garner) in "Kisses for My President" (1964). In 1965, Dahl ramped up her media presence as a beauty expert, leveraging her longtime newspaper column into visual medium with a series of interstitial shorts, "Arlene Dahl's Beauty Spot," that aired on ABC, and publishing the book Always Ask a Man, a celebration of girly-girl femininity then being reexamined amid the progressive cultural upheaval of the 1960s; the book would later be regarded as a slice of pre-feminist camp. She went on to write a series of beauty books, and enjoy a run of guest appearances on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (NBC, 1967-1973), as well as star in the B-grade Western, "Land Raiders" (1969).
Dahl built an eclectic business résumé, even after her own company shuttered in 1967, taking a vice presidency gig with the ad agency Kenyon and Eckhardt in 1967 and doing a five-year stint as director of beauty products for Sears Roebuck and Company, starting in 1970. She briefly ventured back to the stage in 1972 to take on the role of Margo Channing in the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Applause." She went back out on her own with her own fragrance company, Dahlia, in 1975. Her fifth marriage, to investment banker Rounsevelle Schaum, dissipated not long after, and her business fortunes took a downturn as well, with Dahl eventually filing for bankruptcy after the fragrance company went belly up. In an effort to get back on her financial feet, she returned to television in the 1980s, including a three-year turn on the ABC soap "One Life to Live" starting in 1981, and four separate appearances on ABC's sunset-star magnet, "The Love Boat" (1977-1986). In 1984, Dahl married her sixth husband, Marc Rosen, appropriately a vice president at cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden and 18 years her junior. A few years later, Dahl expanded her multimedia imprint into astrology, starting a syndicated column; by the early 1990s, she had begun a 900-number business, Arlene Dahl's Daily Destiny Phoneline - ads for which suggested Dahl had " forecast the future for the world's most famous people movie stars, jet-set billionaires and political leaders seek her out to discover what the stars hold for them." In 1991, she ventured into features again to star with son Lorenzo Lamas in "Night of the Warrior," a low-budget actioner that saw them playing mother and son club owners, with Lamas taking to underground fighting to keep them afloat. She would also show up for two guest turns on Lamas' syndicated action series, "Renegade" (1992-97), as well as in an episode of his short-lived series, "Air America" (syndicated, 1998-99). Thereafter, her media appearances became few and far between, though she did pop back up for a week's run on the game show "Hollywood Squares" (1998-2004) in 2003.
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