Saturday, December 14, 2013

Godspeed Audrey Totter

Audrey Totter, best known for playing femme fatales in such films noir as Lady in the Lake (1947) and The Set-Up (1949), died on 12 December 2013 at the age of 95. The causes were a stroke and congestive heart failure.

Audrey Totter was born on 20 December 1917 in Joliet, Illinois. After graduating from high school Miss Totter moved to Chicago where she began appearing on radio shows. Eventually she moved to New York City where she continued to appear on various radio shows. She was a regular on such daytime serials as Ma Perkins, Road of Life, and Right to Happiness. In 1941 and 1942 she toured with a production of My Sister Eileen. It was in 1944 that she was discovered by a Hollywood talent scout. She signed a seven years contract with MGM.

Audrey Totter made her screen debut in Main Street After Dark in 1945.  In 1945 she appeared in a variety of films including Dangerous Partners, The Hidden Eye, Adventure, and The Sailor Takes a Wife. A bit of breakthrough role occurred with The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1946. While the role of Madge was a small one, it was also one that was central to the plot and Miss Totter played her well. She appeared in the comedy fantasy The Cockeyed Miracle (1946) before her career making role in Lady in the Lake. In the film Miss Totter played Kingsby Publications editor Adrienne Fromsett, who hires Philip Marlowe (played by Robert Montgomery, who also directed) to find her boss's wife. After Lady in the Lake Audrey Totter would appear in a number of films noirs, although she would not always play femmes fatales in them.  In The Unsuspected (1947) she played the scheming niece of radio personality Victor Grandison (played by Claude Rains). In High Wall (1947) she played psychiatrist Dr. Ann Lorrison, who helps war vet Steven Kenet (played by Robert Taylor) prove his innocence. In The Saxon Charm (1948) she played the unfortunate girlfriend of theatrical producer Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery). In The Set-Up she played the wife of boxer "Stoker" Thompson (played by Robert Ryan).

In the late Forties and early Fifties she also appeared in such films as Alias Nick Beal (1949), Any Number Can Play (1949), Tension (1949), Under the Gun (1951), The Blue Veil (1951), and Woman They Almost Lynched (1953).  Miss Totter also continued to appear on radio, on such shows as Screen Guild Theatre, Family Theatre, and Stars Over Hollywood. Along with Gene Kelly, Miss Totter filled in for Ann Southern for three months on the radio show The Adventures of Maisie while the star recovered from thyroid surgery. From 2 July 1951 to 23 September 1954 Audrey Totter was the star of the radio sitcom Meet Millie.

In 1952 Audrey Totter reduced her appearances in film in order to concentrate on raising her family. Much of the rest of her career would then be spent on television. In the Fifties she was a regular on the Western Cimarron City. She guest starred on such shows as Four Star Playhouse, The Whistler, Science Fiction Theatre, Fireside Theatre, The 20th Century Fox Hour, Zane Gray Theatre, Suspicion, Climax, The Red Skelton Hour, Hawaiian Eye, The Loretta Young Show, The Ann Southern Show, and G.E. Theatre. She did continue to appear in films, including such movies as Massacre Canyon (1954), A Bullet for Joey (1955), Women's Prison (1955), The Vanishing American (1955), Women's Prison (1955), Ghost Diver (1957), and Jet Attack (1958), and Man or Gun (1958).

In the Sixties Miss Totter was a regular on the shows Our Man Higgins and, for season, Dr. Kildare. She guest starred on such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, Rawhide, Perry Mason, Bonanza, Run for Your Life, The Virginian, and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers. She also appeared in the films The Carpetbaggers (1964), Harlow (1965), and Chubasco (1967). In the Seventies she was a regular on the TV show Medical Centre. She guest starred on such shows as Harry O, Police Story,and  Matt Helm. She appeared in the film The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again (1979). Her last appearance was a guest shot on the TV show Murder, She Wrote in 1987.

The advent of cable television and VHS would introduce Audrey Totter's films noirs to a whole new legion of fans. As a result, Miss Totter began to get new offers for roles in films. She turned them down, saying in an interview in 2000, "What could I play? A nice grandmother? Boring! Critics always said I acted best with a gun in my hand." Admittedly, this is the way that most of us remember Miss Totter. She was always the tough dame, the femme fatale, the beautiful woman who would either kiss you or kill you, or might just do both. That having been said, Miss Totter was a very versatile actress who played more than bad girls. In fact, her role that always impressed me the most was that of psychiatrist Dr. Lorrison in High Wall. Dr. Lorrison wasn't only sympathetic to the protagonist's plight, but she was intelligent, independent, and cool as well. Although she rarely played in the genre, Audrey Totter did quite well with comedies. She was delightful in her supporting roles in The Sailor Takes a Wife and The Cockeyed Miracle. Although there can be no doubt that Audrey Totter will be remembered best for her femmes fatales, she could play so much more.

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