Rhonda Fleming - 7/23 (Daytime)
Dubbed the "Queen of Technicolor" because of her creamy complexion, blue eyes and flaming red hair, Rhonda Fleming was a glamorous and popular leading lady in films of the 1940s and '50s. Now retired, she was also active in television and continued her career through 1990 as an actress and singer. (She is a trained lyric soprano.)
Fleming usually played self-assured women who knew what they wanted and had no qualms about going after it. Her leading men included Gregory Peck, Randolph Scott, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford, Burt Lancaster, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Rock Hudson, Stewart Granger, Ronald Reagan and John Payne. With the last two, she made four films each. Most of her starring vehicles were somewhat routine, and she once remarked that her only regret was "I didn't get to make a truly great movie like Casablanca to be identified with."
Fleming was born Marilyn Louis in Hollywood, CA, on August 10, 1923. Her father was an insurance salesman and her mother, Effie Graham, was a model and performer who had worked with Al Jolson in New York City. Fleming was discovered on the street by agent Henry Willson and signed a contract with him while she was still attending Beverly Hills High School. She made her film debut at Republic Pictures as a dance-hall girl in In Old Oklahoma (1943), a John Wayne Western.
When Willson signed with David O. Selznick, Fleming went along and had supporting roles in a few Selznick films, including choice small parts in the classic thrillers Spellbound (1945) and The Spiral Staircase (1946). Selznick lent her to RKO for the second lead in the classic film noir Out of the Past (1947), starring Robert Mitchum, then to Paramount for leads opposite Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1949) and Bob Hope in The Great Lover (1949).
Both Paramount films were successes, and Fleming's name was made. Her association with Selznick ended in 1950, but she continued to play leads at Paramount, RKO and other studios. Most of her movies were Westerns, crime thrillers and adventure films (often in exotic locales), along with an occasional romantic comedy.
Fleming would say later that she usually "wasn't fortunate enough to get good directors. I made the mistake of doing lesser films for good money. I was hot--they all wanted me--but I didn't have the guidance or background to judge for myself."
She had sung onscreen - notably in the Crosby film, which had generated an album conducted by composer Victor Young. When her film career dimmed, in addition to television work, she appeared as a singer in Las Vegas and at the Hollywood Bowl and other venues.
Fleming had six husbands including Ted Mann (1978 to his death in 2001) and Darol Wayne Carlson (2003 to his death in 2017). By her first husband, Thomas Wade Lane Jr., she had a son, Kent Lane, who became an actor.
Fleming has been prominent in charity work, civic organizations and medical care centers. She has two clinics named for her at UCLA, one for Women's Comprehensive Care and the other for Women with Cancer.
Below are the films in our tribute to Rhonda Fleming.
Gun Glory (1957) is a low-budget MGM Western starring Stewart Granger as a rancher fighting a powerful cattleman, with Fleming as his housekeeper and romantic interest. The supporting cast includes Chill Wills, James Gregory and Steve Rowland, the son of the film's director, Roy Rowland.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) is one of Fleming's best-known films, with Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday in a dramatization of the real-life shootout that took place in 1881 in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Fleming has the female lead as a beautiful gambler who falls for Earp, and the solid supporting cast features Jo Van Fleet, John Ireland, Lyle Bettger, Earl Holliman and Dennis Hopper. John Sturges directed.
Home Before Dark (1958) is an affecting romantic drama starring Jean Simmons as a young woman with a fragile grip on her sanity. She believes husband Dan O'Herlihy is having an affair with her scheming step-sister - played by Fleming as a blonde to contrast with Simmons' brunette beauty (although Simmons has gray hair at times). There's a great scene where Simmons dons a blonde wig in a parody of Fleming's character. Mervyn LeRoy directed. Fleming chose this as her favorite role, saying that it was "a marvelous stretch."
The Big Circus (1959) casts Fleming as a publicist for a struggling circus run by Victor Mature. Amid major crises, they clash over how to keep the showing going and eventually, of course, fall in love. Also in the film, produced by Irwin Allen, are Vincent Price as a ringmaster, Red Buttons as an accountant, Peter Lorre as a clown, and Gilbert Roland, Adele Mara, and David Nelson as aerialists.
The Crowded Sky (1960) is an aviation thriller, with Fleming cast as the unfaithful wife of a U.S. Navy jet pilot (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) whose plane is on a collision course with an airliner filled with passengers. Joseph Pevney directs a cast that also includes Dana Andrews, Troy Donahue, Anne Francis and John Kerr.
by Roger Fristoe