'House of Wax' star Phyllis Kirk dies

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Actress Phyllis Kirk, who played the raven-haired beauty stalked by Vincent Price in the 1950s horror film "House of Wax," has died. She was 79.

Kirk died Thursday of a post cerebral aneurysm at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, her publicist Dale Olson said.

Born Phyllis Kirkegaard in Plainfield, N.J., she moved to New York City in her late teens to study with famed acting coach Sanford Meisner, shortening her last name to Kirk. She appeared on several Broadway plays before moving to Hollywood, where she costarred with such leading men as Frank Sinatra ("Johnny Concho") and Jerry Lewis ("The Sad Sack").

She gained the most attention for her role in "House of Wax" because it was the first major 3-D movie.

Kirk later worked in television, memorably playing Peter Lawford's wife in the series "The Thin Man." She was also a regular on "The Red Buttons Show" and hosted the ABC talk show "The Young Set."

Her acting career slowed down by the late 1950s and she turned her focus to political and social causes.

She made news by speaking out against the death sentence of convicted kidnapper and rapist Caryl Chessman, whom police nicknamed the "Red Light Bandit." Kirk was among a slate of celebrities, including Ray Bradbury and Norman Mailer, who pleaded with authorities to spare Chessman's life, going as far as visiting him several times in prison until he was executed in 1960.

After the 1965 Watts race riots, she helped fund two preschool programs for poor families in the South Los Angeles neighborhood. She later launched a second career in public relations.

Kirk was survived by her sister Megan Kirk Flax and two stepdaughters. Kirk was cremated and her remains will be interred in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband Warren Bush, a television producer who died in 1992.
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