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Mildred Joanne Smith, who portrayed Sidney Poitier’s wife in his film debut, the 1950 drama No Way Out, and then saw her career upended when she was severely injured in a plane crash, has died. She was 94.
Smith, who after her lone movie appearance became a magazine editor and a popular English teacher for a junior high school, died July 19, her family announced.
In the 1940s, Smith starred in such Broadway productions as Men to the Sea, Mamba’s Daughters, Beggar’s Holiday (as the love interest of Alfred Drake), Forward the Heart and A Long Way From Home. All were short-lived, but she received great reviews.
In writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out, Smith appeared as stoic young wife Cora Brooks. She comforts her husband Luther (Poitier), a doctor just starting out who is confronted by a racist patient, robbery suspect Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark), who causes all kinds of trouble.
A native of Struthers, Ohio, Smith suffered injuries that included a broken back and ribs when the DC6 that was carrying her en route to Newark Airport crashed in Elizabeth, New Jersey in February 1952, narrowly missing an orphanage. Twenty-five of the 59 passengers on board were killed.
Her story was told that month in Jet magazine, with cover lines that described her as “The Magnificent Failure: She Won Fame but Never Quite Could Attain Stardom.”
After recovering, Smith concentrated on a singing career and starred with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in a musical revue, “Cockles and Champagne,” created for the London stage.
Later, she worked as women’s editor for the black lifestyle publication Our World magazine and as a teacher at Eastview Junior High School in White Plains, New York.
Smith was married to David A. Hepburn, a journalist and vice president for WNEW-TV in New York. He died in 1985.
Survivors include her daughter Vanessa, son David, stepdaughter Valerie and grandchildren Brandon, Chelsea, Cole, Kaleo, Sage and Koa.
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