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Chris Chase; actress turned to writing later in life

Mrs. Chase appeared in “All That Jazz” and Kubrick’s noirish “Killer’s Kiss.”

Associated Press/File 1977

Mrs. Chase appeared in “All That Jazz” and Kubrick’s noirish “Killer’s Kiss.”

NEW YORK — Chris Chase — an actress, journalist, memoirist and co-author of autobiographical books about Rosalind Russell, Josephine Baker, and Betty Ford — died Oct. 31 at her home in New York.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, her sister Linda Stein said.

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Honoring Mrs. Chase’s lifelong practice, she said, her family declined to disclose her age, but according to some sources she was 90.

In the 1950s and ’60s Mrs. Chase appeared on the New York stage, on television, and in film under the name Irene Kane.

Her most notable role was in Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 noir thriller, “Killer’s Kiss,” as a dance-hall partner-for-hire who becomes a brutal man’s obsession.

It was Mrs. Chase’s film debut — “The day I reported for work, I nearly died of happiness,” she wrote — and her only leading role in a movie.

She also performed in the 1956 off-Broadway production of “The Threepenny Opera,” had a recurring role in the CBS television soap opera “Love of Life,” appeared in several episodes of the ABC television series “Naked City,” and played a cynical television culture critic in the 1979 film “All That Jazz,” Bob Fosse’s dark portrayal of show business.

Mrs. Chase never achieved stardom, but she found her voice writing about what she portrayed as her “I Love Lucy”-like pursuit of it. Her wry, self-deprecating essays, many of them first published in The New York Times, became the basis of a 1974 memoir, “How to Be a Movie Star, or A Terrible Beauty Is Born.”

In mock Hollywood tell-all style, Mrs. Chase described competing for parts with trained dogs better dressed than she and studying scripts so awful that she could not recite a single line without laughing uncontrollably. She shared dietary beauty secrets like this: “Eat plenty of potatoes. This produces a firm, round, unwrinkled appearance.”

Comparing her own “first break,” in “Killer’s Kiss,” which was filmed at night in seedy New York warehouses, with Audrey Hepburn’s debut a few years before in “Roman Holiday” — in Rome, with Gregory Peck — Mrs. Chase gazed wistfully across the vast divide of their fortunes.

“I realized there were first breaks and first breaks,” she wrote.

The memoir jump-started Mrs. Chase’s career as a writer. Rosalind Russell, who said she liked Mrs. Chase’s dry, slightly brittle humor, asked her to be the co-writer of her autobiographical “Life Is a Banquet” (1977).

Betty Ford, the former first lady, read Russell’s book and asked Mrs. Chase to collaborate with her on her own. Their effort resulted in “The Times of My Life” (1978) and a follow-up, “Betty: A Glad Awakening” (1987), which described Ford’s alcoholism and drug addiction in often unflattering detail. It became a best-seller.

Mrs. Chase also wrote “Josephine: The Hungry Heart” (1993) with Jean-Claude Baker, who was informally adopted as a teenage boy by Josephine Baker, the chanteuse and dancer who had made a mission of adopting orphans from around the world.

Writing in The Times, critic Margo Jefferson praised the narrative Mrs. Chase had assembled from the exhaustive research and personal recollections provided by Jean-Claude Baker as his mother’s assistant in the final decade of her life. Jefferson called it a deft weaving together of “cultural and theatrical history with an intense Oedipal drama.”

Mrs. Chase was born Chris Greengard in New York City to Pearl Meister and Benjamin Greengard, a vaudeville comedian who became a sales representative for a perfume company.

She was not encouraged in her ambitions to be a writer or actress, her sister said, and did not attend college.

Instead, after graduating from high school, she found work at the fan magazine Modern Screen, where she caught the eye of Bert Stern, an elite photographer of fashion models and movie stars. Modeling for Stern, Mrs. Chase appeared in Vogue and other fashion magazines.

Stern introduced her to Kubrick, who was a friend.

In 1962, Mrs. Chase married Michael Chase, a television production director, and took his name professionally and legally. She became a frequent contributor to The Times, profiling film stars from the mid-1970s until the early 2000s. She later became a culture commentator on the “CBS Morning News” and the first anchor of CNN’s “Media Watch.”

Besides her sister, she leaves her husband and a brother, Paul Greengard, a neuroscientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000.

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