Oscar Profile #468: Dorothy Malone

Born January 29, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois, Mary Dorothy Maloney was one of five children born to an AT&T auditor and his wife. When she was six months old, the family moved to Dallas, Texas where she grew up, her two older sisters dying of complications from polio.

Intent on becoming a nurse, Maloney minored in drama at Southern Methodist University where she was discovered by a talent agent and signed by RKO at 18 as Dorothy Maloney. The attractive brunette made her film debut in an unbilled part in 1943’s Gildersleeve on Broadway and appeared in a number of minor roles until RKO dropped her contract in 1945. Migrating to Warner Bros. as Dorothy Malone, she began to be noticed in such films as Night and Day and The Big Sleep. Despite her minor success at Warner’s, the studio dropped her in 1949.

Working as insurance secretary back home in Dallas, Malone on a business trip to New York, decided to stay and return to acting by studying with the American Theatre Wing and finding occasional roles on television. Back on screen as a brunette, her career took a turn for the better when she turned platinum blonde to play Doris Day’s sister in 1954’s Young at Heart, followed by a sensational turn in 1955’s Battle Cry in which she was once again brunette. She went blonde again for 1956’s Written on the Wind which won her the 1957 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, an award she dedicated to a brother who had recently died from a lightning strike while golfing in Dallas.

A blonde in 1957’s Man of a Thousand Faces and 1958’s Tarnished Angels, Malone went brunette for the last time as Diana Barrymore in 1958’s Too Much, Too Soon, followed by 1959’s Warlock and 1960’s The Last Voyage. It was while filming the latter that the actress met Ginger Rogers’ ex-husband Jacques Bergerac, whom she married in 1959 when she was 35. She would have two children with Bergerac in a marriage that ended in a bitter divorce in 1964.

Malone’s career reached a new plateau when she assumed Lana Turner’s role in 1965 TV version of Peyton Place but she almost died from complications during surgery to remove blood clots on her legs and was temporarily replaced by Lola Albright. After returning to the role, she complained that she was now playing second fiddle to Mia Farrow who played her daughter. Dropped by the producers of the successful show, she sued for breach of contract and won an out of court settlement n 1968.

The actress’s second marriage to stockbroker Robert Tomarkin in 1969 was annulled after three months. Her third marriage to businessman Charles Huston Bell in 1971 lasted less than two years. Although she continued to act, Malone’s roles became shorter and shorter, her best-known later roles being in the 1978 TV mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man and the 1979 film, Winter Kills. She made her final appearance in 1992’s Winter Kills.

Dorothy Malone died on January 19, 2018, ten days before what would have been her 94th birthday.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

YOUNG AT HEART (1954), directed by Gordon Douglas

This musical remake of 1938’s Four Daughters changes the names of the characters form the original version and drops one of the daughters so that there are now three, played by Doris Day, Malone, going blonde for the first time, and Elisabeth Fraser. Their love interests are played by Frank Sinatra, Gig Young and Alan Hale, Jr. The girls live their father played by Robert Keith and grandmother played by Ethel Barrymore. Unlike John Garfield’s character in the original, Sinatra doesn’t die at the end because the actor having died in his last two films, objected to dying yet again on screen and the producers acceded to his wishes.

BATTLE CRY (1955), directed by Raoul Walsh

Although the film was shot at Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego, and features plenty of battle scenes, the emphasis in this film in which the marines spend a lot of time in Wellington, New Zealand, in on sex. The film’s hottest scene is the one between a young corporal played by Tab Hunter and the local USO manager played by Malone in which they comfortable after a game of tennis. Rounding out the cast are Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, Mona Freeman, Nancy Olson, James Whitmore, Raymond Massey, Anne Francis, William Campbell, John Lupton, L.Q. Jones, Perry Lopez and Fess Parker.

WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956), directed by Douglas Sirk

Sirk’s superheated melodrama gives top billing to Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall, but it’s co-stars Robert Stack and Malone who heat up the screen and walk away with acting honors. Based on a sensational 1946 novel, Hudson plays the friend of playboy Stack who sweeps Bacall off her feet and marries her before she realizes what she has gotten herself into. Malone plays Stock’s nymphomaniac sister. Robert Keith, who played her father in Young at Heart, plays her father here, but it’s a different kind of relationship in a different kind of family. Malone won an Oscar, Stack a nomination.

MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957), directed by Joseph Pevney

One of the first biographies of a show business figure, James Cagney gives an outstanding performance as silent screen legend Lon Chaney. Malone plays his first wife, Cleva, who is disgusted by her pregnancy, fearing that her child will be born deaf like Chaney’s parents. When the child is born healthy, their marriage is temporarily saved, but erodes anyway. Jane Greer plays Chaney’s second wife, Hazel and Roger Smith plays son Creighton, later renamed Lon Chaney. Jr. Future Hollywood producer Robert Evans plays legendary producer Irving Thalberg in one of his early films as an actor.

TOO MUCH, TOO SOON (1958), created by Art Napoleon

Malone had another role she could sink her teeth into as Diana Barrymore, the alcoholic actress daughter of stage and screen legend John Barrymore played by Errol Flynn in one of his last roles as his real-life friend and mentor. Although both actors are superb, censorship of the day resulted in a screenplay so vague that it defeated the best of the filmmakers’ intentions and the film was not the success it was expected to be. Flynn, like the elder Barrymore and his daughter was an alcoholic and died the following year at 50. Diana Barrymore died the next year at 38. Malone would live for another sixty years, dying ten days before her 94th brithday.

DOROTHY MALONE AND OSCAR

  • Written on the Wind (1956) – Oscar – Best Supporting Actress

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