Rhonda Fleming, whose long career embraced filmdom’s Golden Age and the early days of television, died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. at age 97. No cause was given, but her death was confirmed by her secretary.
Fleming was known as the “Queen of Technicolor” for her stunning red hair and green eyes, which lit up the screen in her appearances. Overall, she appeared in more than 40 films, working with directors Alfed Hitchcock, Jacques Tourneur, and Robert Siodmak, among other film greats.
Her best-known films included the 1948 musical fantasy A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court with Bing Crosby, the 1957 Western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and the noir Slightly Scarlet, alongside John Payne.
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Fleming was the costar to some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including four films with Ronald Reagan before he entered politics. She worked with Glenn Ford, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Bob Hope, and Rock Hudson, among others.
Born Marilyn Louis in Hollywood, she attended Beverly Hills High, where, legend has it, she was discovered by agent Henry Wilson while on the way to school. Her name was quickly changed by Wilson to the more glamourous Rhonda Fleming, and she was signed to a contract with David O. Selznick.
She was cast as a nymphomaniac in Spellbound, a term she later admitted she had to look up after being cast.
Fleming appeared on Broadway in in Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women and toured as Madame Dubonnet in The Boyfriend.” She also did music in Las Vegas nightclubs and appeared at the Hollywood Bowl in a one-woman concert with compositions from Cole Porter and Irving Berlin.
In television, Fleming guest-starred in Wagon Train, Police Woman, The Love Boat, was in a special of McMillan & Wife.
Later in life, Fleming became a philanthropist. She and her late husband, Ted Mann of Mann’s Theaters, established the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic for Comprehensive Care for Women with Cancer at UCLA in memory of her sister Beverly. She also founded the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center at UCLA.
She also supported Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., where she established the Rhonda Fleming Carlson Inspiration Garden in 2014.
Fleming was also an ambassador of Childhelp, dedicated to the care and treatment of victims of child abuse, and P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless), where she established two Rhonda Fleming Family Centers.
Fleming is survived by her son, Kent Lane, granddaughter, Kelly Harman (Morgan Harman), granddaughter, Kimberly Coleman, and great-grandchildren Wagner Harman (Lindsay Harman), Page Harman, Linden Harman, Lane Albrecht, Cole Albrecht and two great-great grandchildren, Ronan and Kiera Harman. She is also survived by step-children Candace Voien, Cindy Jaeger, Jill Lundstrom and Kevin Carlson.
Donations may be made to: P.A.T.H., 340 N. Madison Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004-3504; Saint John’s Hospital and Health Center Foundation, 1328 22nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404 or Childhelp, 4350 E. Camelback Rd., Ste. F250, Phoenix, AZ 85018.
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