Fay McKenzie, Gene Autry's Co-Star in 5 Movie Westerns, Dies at 101

Fay McKenzie - Cowboy Serenade - Publicity-H 2019
Republic Pictures/Courtesy of Bryan Cooper

She also played the host of a wacky Hollywood bash in 'The Party,' directed by her neighbor, Blake Edwards.

Fay McKenzie, who starred alongside Gene Autry in five Westerns and appeared in five films for director Blake Edwards, has died. She was 101.

McKenzie died in her sleep on April 16 in Los Angeles, a relative, Bryan Cooper, announced.

After a brief marriage to tough-guy actor Steve Cochran in the 1940s, McKenzie wed screenwriter Tom Waldman, who worked on the screenplays for the Edwards films High Time (1960), The Party (1968) and Trail of the Pink Panther (1982).

In The Party, McKenzie played Alice Clutterbuck, the hostess of the film's chaotic bash, and she also appeared for the director in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) — in another memorable party scene — Experiment in Terror (1962) and S.O.B. (1981). She and Edwards were neighbors in Malibu.

At Republic Studios, McKenzie starred with Autry and performed duets with the legendary "Singing Cowboy" in Down Mexico Way (1941), Sierra Sue (1941), Home in Wyomin' (1942), Heart of the Rio Grande (1942) and Cowboy Serenade (1942). 

"I got an enormous amount of fan mail [after Down Mexico Way,] so we were teamed from then on!" she recalled in an undated interview on the Western Clippings website. "I loved working with Gene, he was terrific! I could sing, and that was something the earlier girls couldn't do. … I could do more than smile and wave at the cowboy."

Born in Hollywood on Feb. 19, 1918, McKenzie was a daughter of actors Eva and Bob McKenzie. She was cradled in the arms of Gloria Swanson in the silent film Station Content (1918) when she was 10 weeks old and then appeared with Oliver Hardy in the short Distilled Love (1920).

She was educated at MGM's Little Red Schoolhouse, where her classmates included Ann Rutherford, Betty Grable and Anne Jeffreys, and had small roles in such pictures as Arizona Bad Man (1935), Ride 'Em Cowboy (1936) and the classic Gunga Din (1939).

McKenzie also starred in Assassin of Youth (1937), a propaganda film about the perils of marijuana.

The raven-haired actress appeared as "Miss Hollywood" on Broadway in 1940 in the musical revue Meet the People, starring Nanette Fabares, Jack Gilford and Doodles Weaver, and in 1946 with Bert Lahr in Burlesque. In between, she starred with Bob Crosby (Bing's brother) in The Singing Sheriff (1944).

On a Hollywood Victory Caravan Tour during World War II, she sang "Dr. Hackenbush" with Groucho Marx — she also worked with him on his radio show — and performed with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, James Cagney and others in support of the troops.

McKenzie studied acting with Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg in New York in the 1950s and then appeared on such TV shows as The Millionaire, Mr. Lucky and Bonanza.

Cooper said she shot a cameo on a movie called Kill a Better Mousetrap last summer, so her career spanned a century.

Three weeks ago, she was treated at her residence to a screening of Distilled Love, according to Stan Taffel, president of the Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which honored her with a career achievement award in 2011.

McKenzie was married to Waldman from the late 1940s until his death in 1985. Survivors include her children Tom and Madora and two grandchildren.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to Broadview or YWCA Madison.