DALLAS — Actress Dorothy Malone, who won hearts of 1960s television viewers as the long-suffering mother in the nighttime soap ‘‘Peyton Place,’’ died Friday in her hometown of Dallas at age 93.
After 11 years of mostly roles as loving sweethearts and wives, the brunette actress decided she needed to gamble on her career instead of playing it safe. She fired her agent, hired a publicist, dyed her hair blonde, and sought a new image.
‘‘I came up with a conviction that most of the winners in this business became stars overnight by playing shady dames with sex appeal,’’ she recalled in 1967. She welcomed the offer for ‘‘Written on the Wind,’’ in which she played an alcoholic nymphomaniac who tries to steal Rock Hudson from his wife, Lauren Bacall.
‘‘And I’ve been unfaithful or drunk or oversexed almost ever since— on the screen, of course,’’ she added.
When Jack Lemmon announced her as the winner of the 1956 Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role for the performance, she rushed to the stage of the Pantages Theatre and gave the longest speech of the evening. Even when Lemmon pointed to his watch, she continued undeterred, thanking ‘‘the Screen Actors and the Screen Extras guilds because we’ve had a lot of ups and downs together.’’
Ms. Malone’s career waned after she reached 40, but she achieved her widest popularity with ‘‘Peyton Place,’’ the 1964-69 ABC series based on Grace Metalious’ steamy novel ,which became a hit 1957 movie starring Lana Turner. Malone assumed the Turner role as Constance Mackenzie, the bookshop operator who harbored a dark secret about the birth of her daughter Allison, played by the 19-year-old Mia Farrow.
ABC took a gamble on ‘‘Peyton Place,’’ scheduling what was essentially a soap opera in prime time three times a week. It proved to be a ratings winner, winning new prominence for Malone and making stars of Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, and Barbara Parkins.
‘‘RIP Dorothy Malone, my beautiful TV mom for two amazing years,’’ Farrow posted on Twitter.
Ms. Malone was offered a salary of $10,000 a week, huge money at the time. She settled for $7,000 with the proviso that she could leave the set at 5 p.m. so she could spend time with her young daughters, Mimi and Diane. She had been divorced from their father, a dashing Frenchman, Jacques Bergerac.
In 1942, an RKO talent scout saw her in a play at Southern Methodist University and recommended her for a studio contract. Her first three movie roles were walk-ons with no lines; her later roles were not much improvement. A move to Warner Bros. in 1945 provided greater opportunity.
In her first film at Warners, ‘‘The Big Sleep,’’ she was cast as a bookshop clerk who is questioned by Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart). She closes the shop, lets her hair down, takes off her glasses, and seduces the private eye in a shelter from a thunderstorm. Her other films at the studio were less provocative. They included ‘‘Night and Day,’’ ‘’One Sunday Afternoon,’’ ‘’Colorado Territory,’’ ‘’Young at Heart’’ and ‘‘Battle Cry.’’
Free of her Warner Bros. contract, Ms. Malone was cast by Universal in ‘‘Written on the Wind,’’ which she later termed ‘‘the most fun picture I ever made.’’ Important films followed: ‘‘Man of a Thousand Faces’’ as the wife of Lon Chaney (James Cagney); ‘‘Too Much, Too Soon’’ as Diana Barrymore, the alcoholic daughter of John Barrymore (Errol Flynn); and ‘‘The Last Sunset,’’ a western with Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson.
None of the roles matched her Marylee Hadley in ‘‘Written on the Wind,’’ and she welcomed the offer of ‘‘Peyton Place.’’
‘‘At the time, doing television was considered professional death,’’ she remarked in 1981. ‘‘However, I knew the series was going to be good, and I didn’t have to prove myself as a star.’’
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