Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy birthday, Audrey Totter!

When I sat down this morning to work on today’s birthday list (I know, I’m running behind—not enough hours in the day) I was genuinely pleased to learn that one of my favorite actresses is still with us and is celebrating her ninety-second natal anniversary.  Audrey Mary Totter was born on this date (though some sources say 1917) in Joliet, IL and if you’ve logged as many hours as I have watching classic film noirs you’ll recognize her right off as one of the silver screen’s premiere “bad girls” in movies like Main Street After Dark, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Unsuspected and Tension.

Totter’s show business career started in the footlights, appearing in productions in Chicago and New York…and she also logged quite a bit of time in front of a radio microphone—but more on that in a sec.  She signed a seven-year contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, and started appearing in B-pics like Dangerous Partners and The Hidden Eye—but M-G-M was grooming her for bigger things, which is how she landed a small but noticeable part in Postman as the blonde floozy who tries to pick up Frank Chambers (John Garfield).  She also nabbed another high profile part in the studio’s 1946 production of Lady in the Lake, which starred Robert Montgomery as Raymond Chandler’s literary creation Philip Marlowe.  Lake, not particularly well received by audiences at the time, cost Audrey a part that may have made her a better known name—she was supposed to play opposite Burt Lancaster in the Universal Studios production of The Killers but filming on Lake took longer than expected and she lost out to Ava Gardner.

Audrey may have specialized in floozy and tramp roles but she got the opportunity to play the good girl on occasion.  She acquitted herself nicely as the supportive psychiatrist trying to help a shell-shocked Robert Taylor in 1947’s High Wall, and played Robert Ryan’s devoted girlfriend (my personal favorite Totter performance) in the 1949 noir classic The Set-Up.  Other memorable Totter turns include roles in The Saxon Charm, Alias Nick Beal, The Sellout and Women’s Prison—but as the demand for “bad girls” started to wane, Audrey started getting assigned the kind of family-friendly features that may have been M-G-M’s forte but weren’t suited to her talents.  Looking at the big picture, Totter was giving “A” list performances but was trapped in “B” list films.

In July 1951, Totter began starring in a radio sitcom entitled Meet Millie, a program that soon became so popular CBS wanted to take it to television…but because Audrey was still under contract to M-G-M (who made frowny faces at the thought of their employees appearing on the small screen) she had to make room for Elena Verdugo as TV’s Millie, and Totter eventually dropped out of the radio version as well.  After leaving M-G-M, however, Totter made up for lost time by appearing regularly on such TV programs as Cimarron City (she was boarding house owner Beth Purcell) and Our Man Higgins (as the title character’s employer, Alice MacRoberts).  In the 1970s, Audrey replaced Jayne Meadows as the head nurse on the hit doctor drama Medical Center (as Nurse Wilcox), and achieved co-star billing on the show as a result.  Totter’s last credit was on an episode of Murder, She Wrote on 1987.

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear wishes Ms. Totter the happiest of birthdays…as well as these distinguished celebrity notables who share her day:

Harvey Firestone (1868-1938) – The automobile tire guy

Charley Grapewin (1869-1956) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Heroes for Sale, Judge Priest, Alice Adams, The Petrified Forest, The Wizard of Oz and The Grapes of Wrath

James Kevin McGuinness (1893-1950) – Motion picture screenwriter-producer whose film contributions include Tarzan and His Mate, What Every Woman Knows, China Seas, Arsène Lupin Returns, Men of Boys Town and Rio Grande

Irene Dunne (1898-1990) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Show Boat, Theodora Goes Wild, The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, Anna and the King of Siam and I Remember Mama

Albert Dekker (1905-1968) – Stage, screen and television character actor whose vehicles include Dr. Cyclops, The Killers, Gentleman’s Agreement, East of Eden, Kiss Me Deadly and The Wild Bunch

Dennis Morgan (1908-1994) – Stage, screen and television actor-singer whose vehicles include Kitty Foyle, In This Our Life, The Hard Way, Christmas in Connecticut, Two Guys from Milwaukee and This Woman is Dangerous

Patti Pickens (1914-1995) – Female pop vocalist who, with siblings Helen and Jane, formed the popular Pickens Sisters trio

Everett Greenbaum (1919-1999) – Veteran television and film screenwriter who, in tandem with partner Jim Fritzell, wrote for such series as Mister Peepers, The Real McCoys, The Andy Griffith Show and M*A*S*H

George Roy Hill (1921-2002) – Academy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes The World of Henry Orient, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Sting, Slap Shot and The World According to Garp

Tom Gries (1922-1977) – Emmy Award-winning motion picture and television director whose oeuvre includes Will Penny, 100 Rifles, The Hawaiians, Breakout, Helter Skelter and Breakheart Pass

Charita Bauer (1922-1985) – Television actress best known for playing matriarch Bertha “Bert” Miller Bauer on the TV soap Guiding Light

Rod Amateau (1923-2003) – Radio and television comedy writer who later became a successful producer of such shows as The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The New Phil Silvers Show, My Mother the Car and The Dukes of Hazzard

Charlie Callas (1924-     ) – Standup comic and actor who’s best known as barkeep Malcolm Argos on the 1975-78 crime drama Switch

Mala Powers (1931-2007) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include Outrage, Cyrano de Bergerac, City That Never Sleeps, City Beneath the Sea, Rage at Dawn and The Colossus of New York

John Hillerman (1932-     ) – Stage, screen and television character actor best known to television audiences as the oh-so-proper Higgins on Magnum, PI; his other TV gigs include Ellery Queen, The Betty White Show, One Day at a Time and Valerie’s Family

Kim Weston (1939-     ) – R&B/gospel vocalist who’s best known for her 1966 duet with Marvin Gaye, It Takes Two

Tommy Cole (1941-     ) – Mouseketeer turned Emmy Award-winning makeup artist

Pamela Austin (1941-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as Rome Adventure, Hootenanny Hoot, Kissin’ Cousins and The Perils of Pauline

Angel Tompkins (1943-     ) – Commercial model who dabbled a bit in acting, appearing in episodes of TV shows and such films as I Love My Wife, Prime Cut, Little Cigars, The Don is Dead and The Bees

Jean Fergusson (1944-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress best known here at TDOY as the voluptuous Marina from the Britcom Last of the Summer Wine

Dick Wolf (1946-     ) – Emmy Award-winning television producer who’s best known as the individual behind Law & Order and its various spin-offs and permutations

John Spencer (1946-2005) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television character actor best known for his TV roles as maverick attorney Tommy Mullaney on L.A. Law and chief of staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing

Alan Parsons (1948-     ) – British audio engineer, musician and record producer whose name is familiar as the brains behind the pop/rock music group The Alan Parsons Project

Claudia Jennings (1949-1979) – 1970 Playboy Playmate of the Year who later drifted into acting; her vehicles include The Love Machine, Group Marriage, 40 Carats, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express and Deathsport

Jenny Agutter (1952-     ) – English stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Railway Children, Walkabout, Logan’s Run, Equus, Amy and An American Werewolf in London

Michael Badalucco (1954-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actor best known as pugnacious attorney Jimmy Berluti on TV’s The Practice

Blanche Baker (1956-     ) – Emmy Award-winning stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Seduction of Joe Tyner, French Postcards, Sixteen Candles, Shakedown, The Handmaid’s Tale and TV’s Holocaust; daughter of Carroll Baker

Anita Ward (1957-     ) – Pop music vocalist best known for this ditty:

Joyce Hyser (1957-     ) – Stage, screen and television actress whose vehicles include The Hollywood Knights, Valley Girl, This is Spinal Tap, Just One of the Guys, Greedy and TV’s L.A. Law

Billy Bragg (1957-     ) – English alternative rock musician

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The Lady Eve said...

Nice bunch of birthdays today...including one of my favorites, Irene Dunne.

I add my best wishes to Audrey Totter on her birthday. I hope to see her soon in "High Wall" which is scheduled as part of the local noir festival next month...

Scott said...

MST3K aficionados will recall Tom Gries as the screenwriter of King Dinosaur, if only because one particularly snappy line prompts Crow to exclaim, "Whoa! Tom Gries, dialogue-writer extraordinaire!"

It's also the birthday of blogger extraordinaire, Doghouse Riley.

Yvette said...

I'm an Audrey Totter fan as well. Loved her in LADY IN THE LAKE. My only quibble with her is that sometimes she looked like she was phoning in her performance. I think, perhaps, she got tired of playing the hussy - often times there's danger of burlesquing that sort of role. Totter had to be photographed a certain way. What do you think, Ivan? Am I wrong?

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Totter had to be photographed a certain way. What do you think, Ivan? Am I wrong?

I'm not certain if I'm the right person to answer this. My love for Audrey is such that I don't think there's any wrong way to photograph her...nudge nudge, wink wink.

It's also the birthday of blogger extraordinaire, Doghouse Riley.

Which I saw at WoC before I got to your comment -- I wished the Hoosier Sage a happy one (I only regret not knowing about it in advance, otherwise I would have let him share space with Mrs. Totter) and have made a mental note to include him next year (this would be easier if he had a Facebook account, but I know not to go there).

Brent McKee said...

Uh, Ivan? John Spencer died December 16, 2005, a few months before "The West Wing" was canceled.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Uh, Ivan? John Spencer died December 16, 2005, a few months before "The West Wing" was canceled.

Whoops! Major fox paw on my part. Duly noted and corrected, sir.

Anonymous said...

Audrey Totter was born in 1917. I know this, because I am her daughter. My father, Leo Fred, was born in 1910. She is healthy and happy and celebrating her 95th birthday today.

Anonymous said...

So pleased to read that Audrey Totter is happy and healthy and just celebrated her 95th birthday. She is my favorite actress. "Lady in the Lake," "A Bullet for Joey," and "The Unsuspected" are the best movies ever because of her.

Anonymous said...

Audrey Totter was my idol when I was growing up because of her role as Beth on Cimarron City. Following her example, I learned to raise one eyebrow without raising the other. My favorite line of hers on that show was her arched rendering of "Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much" (only years later did I learn the original source was Shakespeare's Hamlet). So pleased to hear that she's happy and healthy. I owe her many happy memories, as do countless others. Happy birthday, dearest Audrey Totter. And happy new year from all your fans!

Anonymous said...

I was given a chance to work at the Clarendon assisted living house in Woodlands Hills CA. and I took care of Audrey Totter and the others. I can't stop from crying for they are not treated as what it should be. These old ladies should be given a happier life as they are all dying. They can't even see the sunlight. They can't even go to the garden to smell the fresh breeze, to see the beautiful butterflies or the flowers that blooms. She can't even have a cup of coffee whenever she wants. She's complaining her urinary tract infections to the caregiver but they only said "the doctor will come to see you tomorrow". But since she has a dementia, she can forget it in just a second. I will never forget her as she always told me that " You know that you are rare?" She even asked me "Did you came here to take care of me?" And when we are in the bathroom she wants me to close and lock the door and she will tell me " Please do not allow that fat black old lady to come near me. She is always hurting me. Do you know that I put a lot of money here so that they will take care of me? I will fire that fat black old lady!" I can only shake my head and feel so sorry for her. I hope that she is okay now. She easily get cold and she doesn't eat well. I wished that I could take care of them all. I hope that the owner of the assisted living house will put a hidden camera especially in the bath room, each patients room, dining and living room. I hope that they are all doping well and not treated like what I have witnessed. If my parents will get old, I will always be with them and I will be hands on to them. Especially if they are helpless. Guys, if anyone of you wanted to have the latest photos of Audrey Totter, I can send you. Thanks and I really wanted to talk to Audrey Totter's daughter. Your mom misses you so much. I forgot your name even Audrey told me. God bless you...