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.
Malone died in an assisted living center from natural causes days before her 94th birthday, said her daughter, Mimi Vanderstraaten.
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.”
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.
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.
He had been discovered in France by Ginger Rogers, who married him and helped sponsor his acting career. They divorced, and he wooed and wedded Dorothy Malone in 1959. The marriage lasted five years and ended in a bitter court battle over custody of the daughters. “I wish Ginger had warned me what he was like,” she lamented.
Malone married three times — two and a half by her calculation. Her second marriage, to stock broker Robert Tomarkin in 1969, was annulled after six weeks, Vanderstraaten said. A marriage in 1971 to motel chain executive Huston Bell also ended in divorce.
“I don’t have very good luck in men,” she admitted. “I had a tendency to endow a man qualities he did not possess.” When a reporter suggested that she was well fixed because of the “Peyton Place” money, she replied: “Don’t you believe it. I had a husband who took me to the cleaners. The day after we were married he was on the phone selling off my stuff.”
When she was born in Chicago on Jan. 30, 1925, her name was Dorothy Eloise Maloney (it was changed to Malone in Hollywood “because it sounded too much like baloney,” she said). When she was 3-months-old, her father — a telephone company auditor — moved the family to Dallas where she was raised in a strict Catholic household.
“As a child I lived by the rules,” she said in 1967, “repeating them over and over, abiding by them before I fully understood their full meaning.”
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, 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); “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.”
After the series ended, she appeared in TV movies, including “Murder in Peyton Place” (1977) and “Peyton Place — The Next Generation” (1985).
With her feature career virtually ended, she moved to Dallas to take care of her parents. After they died, she continued living in Dallas, making occasional returns to Hollywood and forays into dinner theaters. In 1992 she was again in a top feature, playing an aging lesbian murderer in the Sharon Stone-Michael Douglas sex thriller, “Basic Instinct.” It was her final on-screen role.
Funeral arrangements were pending Friday. Besides Vanderstraaten, Malone is survived by a son, retired U.S. District Judge Robert B. Maloney, and a daughter, Diane Thompson, all of Dallas.