Rhonda Fleming, Beloved Actress From '40s and '50s Films, Dead at 97

Rhonda Fleming, a red-headed actress who lit up the screen during the 1940s and 1950s to earn the title "Queen of Technicolor," died on Wednesday. She was 97. Fleming starred in several major films, including Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound and the film noir classic Out of the Past. Her other important films included The Buster Keaton Story, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Fleming died in Santa Monica, California, after a battle with aspiration pneumonia, her assistant Carla Sapon told CNN. She was admitted to the hospital about a week before her death. Fleming starred in over 40 movies in the '40s and '50s and continued appearing in films and on television regularly until 1980.

Fleming was born Marilyn Louis in Hollywood and started acting while still in high school. Hollywood agent Henry Wilson soon discovered her and came up with her stage name. She signed her first Hollywood contract with independent producer David O. Selznick, who put her in bit parts in In Old Oklahoma (1943) and the underrated Since You Went Away (1944). In 1945, she scored her first major role, playing a nymphomaniac in Spellbound (1945). In 1947, she earned a part in Out of the Past, the classic 1947 noir starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. That same year, her first lead role came in Adventure Island.

In 1949, she was cast opposite Bing Crosby in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which was her first Technicolor film. This role helped establish her as a "Queen of Technicolor," a title shared with Maureen O'Hara. In the 1950s, Fleming had a contract at Paramount and starred opposite future President Ronald Reagan in The Last Outpost (1951). In 1953, she played Cleopatra in Serpent of the Nile. Fleming also starred in three 3-D movies during the '50s.

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Fleming continued appearing in films through the end of the 1950s, working on the Western Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and The Buster Keaton Story (1957). She went into semi-retirement in 1960 but still showed up in movies and television shows. Her final film wound up being 1980's The Nude Bomb, starring Don Adams and based on the TV series Get Smart. In 1990, she appeared in a short film called Waiting for the Wind.

Fleming, who has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was married six times and had one son, Kent Lane. In 1991, she and her fifth husband, Ted Mann, established the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic for Comprehensive Care at UCLA Medical Center. They also established a resource center for women with cancer and the Rhonda Fleming Mann Research Fellowship at the City of Hope, reports The Hollywood Reporter.