Film Noir Star Audrey Totter Dies at 95

Audrey Totter

The blond actress stood out in such dark classics as "The Postman Always Rings Twice," "Lady in the Lake," "The Set-Up" and "High Wall."

Audrey Totter, the blond starlet who made her mark in such 1940s film noir classics as Lady in the Lake, The Set-Up and High Wall, has died. She was 95.

Totter, who had a stroke and suffered from congestive heart failure, died Thursday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, her daughter, Mea, told the Los Angeles Times.

A former radio actress in Chicago and New York who signed a contract with MGM for $300 a week in 1944, Totter had a career in films that was short-lived but memorable.

Her breakthrough came in Lady in the Lake (1947), where she starred as a publishing executive who hires private detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) to find the wife of her boss. (The film, also directed by Montgomery, is notable in that it is shot almost entirely from the viewpoint of the main character, Marlowe.) 

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In The Unsuspected (1947), Totter was the gold-digging niece of murderous radio-mystery host Claude Rains; she starred as Robert Taylor's psychiatrist helping him prove he didn't murder his wife in High Wall (1947); and she played the wife of over-the-hill boxer Robert Ryan in Robert Wise's The Set-Up (1949).

"I remember the first time you told me that you were one punch away from the title shot," her character says in The Set-Up. "Don't you see, Bill, you'll always be just one punch away!"

She also reteamed with Montgomery for the Broadway-based drama The Saxon Charm (1948), two-timed milquetoast drugstore manager Richard Baseheart in Tension (1949), and played Ray Milland's loose accomplice in the Faustian tale Alias Nick Beal (1949).

A native of Joliet, Ill., Totter had voice roles in Bewitched (1945), starring Phyllis Thaxter, and Ziegfeld Follies (1945) before she lured John Garfield away from Lana Turner (but only briefly) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).

In the early 1950s, Totter married Leo Fred, who taught at the UCLA School of Medicine, and concentrated on raising a family. She returned to acting with TV guest-starring stints as well as recurring roles on Cimarron City, Our Man Higgins and Medical Center. Her final credit came in a 1987 episode of Murder, She Wrote.

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