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Verna Bloom, who starred in Haskell Wexler’s groundbreaking Medium Cool and played the boozing, philandering wife of the college dean in the John Landis comedy Animal House, has died. She was 80.
Bloom died Wednesday in Bar Harbor, Maine, of complications from dementia, family spokesman Mike Kaplan announced.
For Martin Scorsese, Bloom portrayed a sculptor in the comedy After Hours (1985) and then Mary in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). Earlier, she was the lover of Clint Eastwood’s The Stranger in High Plains Drifter (1973) before reteaming with the actor-director in Honkytonk Man (1982).
Survivors include her husband Jay Cocks, a former film critic and two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter for his work on Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002). They married in 1972.
Bloom made her big-screen debut in Wexler’s documentary-style Medium Cool (1969) as a single mother from West Virginia who gets caught up in the violence surrounding the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention, which took place in Wexler’s hometown of Chicago.
The writer-director-cinematographer inserted Bloom into the violence, and the image of her in a yellow dress searching for her lost son among the protestors, tear gas, tanks and armed soldiers became an indelible artifact of those divisive times.
“She was not only a wonderful actress, she was fearless,” Wexler once said. “I was more frightened than she was.”
In Animal House (1979), Bloom put in a great comedic turn as Marion Wormer, the wife of Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer (John Vernon). Her flirty character talks about cucumbers with ladies’ man Eric “Otter” Stratton (Tim Matheson) in a grocery store before embarking on a fling with the college kid.
Born on Aug. 7, 1938, in Lynn, Massachusetts, Bloom graduated from Boston University in 1959. She moved to Denver and started a local theater, where she helped produce productions of Look Back in Anger and A Taste of Honey.
She came to New York and made her Broadway debut in 1967 in The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis De Sade. Wexler then cast her in Medium Cool on a recommendation from writer-historian Studs Terkel.
Her fellow Medium Cool actress Marianna Hill, in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang for his Hill Place blog, said that Bloom was handcuffed and arrested during filming as Hill managed to flee. She said Terkel “wrote a wonderful story about two girls walking in the park and getting arrested for just being girls. It was a cause celebre and was in the headlines in the Chicago Sun-Times for about two weeks.”
Bloom’s big-screen résumé also included The Hired Hand (1971), directed by and starring Peter Fonda, and Howard W. Koch’s Badge 373 (1973), also starring Robert Duvall.
On television, Bloom portrayed the mother of Linda Blair’s character in the landmark 1975 NBC telefilm Sarah T. — Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and was the wife of a cop (Frank Sinatra) in 1977’s Contract on Cherry Street, another high-profile NBC movie.
She also is survived by her son, Sam, a prosecutor in the Special Victims Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s office.
Donations in her name may be made to Bonaparte’s Retreat dog rescue, an organization founded by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris.