Dorothy Malone, 'Peyton Place' Star and Oscar Winner, Dies at 93

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Dorothy Malone

She won her Academy Award for 'Written on the Wind' and had memorable roles in 'The Big Sleep,' 'Man of a Thousand Faces' and 'Too Much, Too Soon.'

Dorothy Malone, the matriarch of TV’s Peyton Place who received an Oscar for playing the sex-crazed sister of playboy Robert Stack in the 1956 melodrama Written on the Wind, has died. She was 93.

The big-eyed, dark-haired beauty, who flourished in Hollywood soon after she went platinum blonde in the mid-1950s, died Friday morning in Dallas, her manager, Burt Shapiro, told The Hollywood Reporter. She had been ill for the past few years.

Malone also starred in the biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), playing opposite James Cagney as Lon Chaney’s emotionally charred first wife, and was the moody and tempestuous Diana Barrymore in Too Much, Too Soon (1958), with Errol Flynn as her father, acting legend John Barrymore.

She was lots of fun as Dean Martin’s love interest in the Lewis & Martin musical comedy Artists and Models (1955). And for her final credit, she had a brief but memorable cameo in Basic Instinct (1992) as a released murderess befriended by Sharon Stone.

Earlier, Malone stirred the film noir faithful with a brief scene in The Big Sleep (1946), when, as a bookstore proprietress, she closed up her shop, seductively removed her glasses and shared a bit of whiskey with Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) on a rainy night.

For millions of Americans, however, the Dallas-reared Malone was best known for playing overprotective single mother Constance MacKenzie on ABC’s Peyton Place, the first primetime serialized drama on U.S. television.

The half-hour show, which ran for five seasons on ABC from 1964-69 — and three times a week at its peak — was based on the sensational 1956 novel of the same name by Grace Metalious and preceded by a 1957 movie that starred Lana Turner as Constance. The TV version was one of the first to deal frankly with sex and as such didn’t air until 9:30 p.m., when the kids were presumable asleep.

Malone, whose daughter on Peyton Place was played by Frank Sinatra’s soon-to-be wife Mia Farrow, suffered a pulmonary embolism while working on the series in 1965, and she underwent seven hours of life-saving surgery after more than 30 blood clots were found in her lungs. Lola Albright temporarily replaced her on the show.

After complaining her character was being slighted in storylines, Malone was written out of the series in 1968. She sued 20th Century Fox for $1.6 million, and the case was settled. She returned to the franchise in the 1977 NBC telefilm Murder in Peyton Place.

In Douglas Sirk’s steamy Technicolor masterwork Written on the Wind (1956), Malone lit up the big screen as Marylee Hadley, the sexy but spiteful sister of off-the-wagon oil heir Stack who lusts after Rock Hudson’s character — but he’s in love with Stack’s pregnant wife (her Big Sleep co-star Lauren Bacall). Jack Lemmon presented her with her supporting actress Oscar at the Pantages.

She was back with Sirk, Hudson and Stack in The Tarnished Angels (1957); co-starred with Robert Taylor in Tip on a Dead Jockey (1957); played opposite Fred MacMurray in Quantez (1957); and starred in Robert Aldrich’s The Last Sunset (1961) as a cattleman’s wife engaged in messy romantic entanglements with Hudson, Kirk Douglas and Joseph Cotton.

Dorothy Eloise Maloney was born in Chicago on Jan. 30, 1924. As a child, her family moved to Dallas, and she modeled and signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures at age 18 while attending Southern Methodist University and planning to become a nurse.

After that deal lapsed, Warner Bros. noticed her, shortened her name from Maloney to Malone and placed her in Howard Hawks’ noir detective thriller The Big Sleep.

After she lowers the shade on the front door of the Acme Book Shop and removes a clip from her hair, she tells Bogart, “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon,” as the scene fades to black.

Hawks said later that he put the scene in the movie “just because the girl was so damn pretty.”

Malone also stood out in Battle Cry (1955), a World War II story in which she played a lonely, seductive wife who falls in love with a young Marine (Tab Hunter), and became a sought-after leading lady.

Her film credits also include Janie Gets Married (1946), Night and Day (1946), Two Guys From Texas (1948), One Sunday Afternoon (1948), Colorado Territory (1949), South of St. Louis (1949), The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), Young at Heart (1954), Loophole (1954), Pushover (1954), Sincerely Yours (1955), Fast and the Furious (1955), Pillars of the Sky (1956), Warlock (1959), Beach Party (1963) and Winter Kills (1979).

She performed on live TV during the 1950s when she was between motion pictures. She did installments of Omnibus (with Jack Benny), Four Star Playhouse and Fireside Theatre and guested on The Rosemary Clooney Show. She later appeared on such series as The Untouchables, Ironside, Rich Man, Poor Man and Matt Houston.

In 1959, Malone married French actor Jacques Bergerac (the former husband of Ginger Rogers and fourth of her five) while she was in Hong Kong filming The Last Voyage (1960). That marriage ended in a contested and very public divorce.

She married businessman Robert Tomarkin in April 1969, but that union was annulled within weeks after she claimed he was out to swindle her. (Years later, he pleaded guilty to grand larceny and served time in jail.) A final marriage, to Dallas motel executive Charles Huston Bell, lasted from 1971-74.

Survivors include her two daughters with Bergerac, Mimi and Diane. Her younger brother Will died at age 16 in 1955 when he was struck by lightning on a Dallas golf course.

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.