Carol Lynley, 'Poseidon Adventure' Actress, Dies at 77

The Poseidon Adventure_Carol Lynley - Photofest - H 2019
Courtesy of Photofest

The actor embodied the waifish ingenue in films including 'The Last Sunset' and 'Return to Peyton Place.'

Carol Lynley, whose ethereal look captivated the public in commercials, movies and TV, has died. She was 77. 

Lynley died Tuesday at her home in California following a heart attack, a source close to the family said.

Lynley garnered national attention as a teen when she appeared in a number of Clairol and Pepsodent commercials. In 1955, she appeared on the cover of Life magazine, which reportedly inspired Walt Disney to cast her in the family drama The Light in the Forest (1958). 

Parlaying her modeling and commercial success into an acting career, Lynley embodied the waifish ingenue. She hit her career peak in 1965 when she posed for Playboy and starred in the thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing, in which she played the mother of a kidnapped child. That same year, Lynley limned the blonde bombshell Jean Harlow in one of two biopics released that year titled Harlow.

In her film roles, Lynley personified an image as the blonde-girl-next-door gone bad. Following Light in the Forest, she was nominated for a Golden Globe as most promising newcomer — female. Her movie roles also capitalized on her brand of sensuality, including the box office hit The Poseidon Adventure (1972), in which she played an insecure singer, and the cattle-drive opus The Last Sunset (1961), in which she co-starred with Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone.

Born as Carol Anne Jones on Feb. 13, 1942, in New York City, she studied dance as a child. Discovered on a local TV show and signed as a child model at 14, she began to appear on live TV, performing in such fare as The Goodyear Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Danger.

Changing her name to Lynley so as not to be confused with actress Carolyn Jones, she made her stage debut in the national touring company of Moss Hart's Anniversary Waltz in 1955. By age 15, Lynley played on Broadway as Dame Sybil Thorndyke's granddaughter in The Potting Shed.

Lynley's Broadway performance as a teenaged unwed mother in Blue Denim, directed by Josh Logan, won her the Theatre World Award as one of the most promising personalities for 1956-57. With that recognition, she garnered a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox.

However, Lynley made her movie debut on loan-out in Disney's adventure drama Light in the Forest, which featured Fess Parker.

For Fox, she performed in such fare as Holiday for Lovers, Blue Denim, Hound-Dog Man, Return to Peyton Place, Blue Denim and most auspiciously, The Stripper (1963), which starred Joanne Woodward and was based on the William Inge play A Loss of Roses.

Lynley had a long-term affair with TV host David Frost, and at one point was involved with Frank Sinatra.

Her career ebbed in the late 1960s and '70s, when her roles consisted mainly of ensemble work or appearing in low-budget fare including The Maltese Bippy, Norwood, The Four Deuces, The Washington Affair and Bad Georgia Road.

Indicative of the decline in her career, Lynley co-starred in 1992 in Spirits, a low-budget thriller in which she starred as a nun opposite Erik Estrada's priest. More recently, she performed in Flypaper (1997) and in the low-budget film Drowning on Dry Land (1999).

Lynley married public relations executive Michael Selsman in 1960. The couple had one daughter, Jill Victoria, before they divorced in 1964.