THE WOMEN OF CLASSIC HORROR: THE 1940S!
You could say that Evelyn Ankers is still the reigning queen of classical 1940s horror fare turned out by studios like RKO, Universal and Monogram. But there were a host of femme screamtales that populated the silver screen with their unique beauty, quirky style and/or set of lungs ready to wail, faint or generally add some great tone and tinge to the eerie atmosphere when ever the mad scientist or monster was afoot. Some were even monstrous themselves…
For this upcoming Halloween I thought I’d show just a little love to those fabulous ladies who forged a little niche for themselves as the earliest scream queens & screen icons.
I’m including Elsa Lanchester because any time I can talk about this deliriously delightful actress I’m gonna do it. Now I know she was the screaming hissing undead bride in the 30s but consider this… in the 40s she co-starred in two seminal thrillers that bordered on shear horror as Mrs Oates in The Spiral Staircase 1945 and a favorite of mine as one of Ida Lupino’s batty sisters Emily Creed in Ladies in Retirement 1941
I plan on venturing back to the pre-code thirties soon, so I’ll talk about The Bride of Frankenstein, as well as Gloria Holden (Dracula’s Daughter, Frances Dade (Dracula) and Kathleen Burke (Island of Lost Souls) Gloria Stuart and Fay Wray and so many more wonderful actresses of that golden era…
ANNE NAGEL 1915-1956
The depraved mad scientist Lionel Atwill working with electro biology pins gorgeous red headed Anne Nagel playing June Lawrence, to his operating slab in Man Made Monster 1941. Lon Chaney Jr. comes hulking in all aglow as the ‘Electrical Man’ which was his debut for Universal. He carries Anne Nagel through the countryside all lit up like a lightning bug in rubber armor. Man Made Monster isn’t the only horror shocker that she displayed her tresses & distresses. She also played a night club singer named Sunny Rogers also co-starring our other 40’s horror heroine icon Anne Gwynne in the Karloff/Lugosi pairing Black Friday in 1940.
She played the weeping Mrs.William Saunders, the wife of Lionel Atwill’s first victim in Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942. And then of course she played mad scientist Dr Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco’s) daughter Lenora in The Mad Monster 1942. Dr Cameron has succeeded with his serum in turning men into hairy wolf like neanderthal monsters whom he unleashes on the men who ruined his career.
Poor Anne had a very tragic life… Considered that sad girl who was always hysterical. Once Universal dropped her she fell into the Poverty Row limbo of bit parts. Her brief marriage to Ross Alexander ended when he shot himself in the barn in 1937, and Anne became a quiet alcoholic until her death from cancer in 1966
MARTHA VICKERS- 1925-1971
Martha was in noir favorites The Big Sleep 1946 & Alimony 1949. This beauty played an uncredited Margareta ‘Vazec’s Daughter’along side Ilona Massey as Baroness Elsa Frankenstein and the marvelous older beauty Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the gypsy! in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1943. Then she played heroine Dorothy Coleman in Captive Wild Woman 1943 and Miss McLean in The Mummy’s Ghost 1944.
Originally Martha MacVickar she started modeling for photographer William Mortenson.David O Selznick contracted the starlet but Universal took over and put in her bit parts as the victim in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and in other ‘B’ guilty pleasures like Captive Wild Woman & The Mummy’s Ghost. She was also the pin-up girl for WWII magazines.
Martha also starred in other noir features such as Ruthless 1948 and The Big Bluff 1955. She was Mickey Rooney’s third wife.
Though Logan made very few films including Opened By Mistake 1940, her contribution to women who kick-ass in horror films and don’t shrink like violets when there’s a big bald baddie coming after you with a net and a bottle of chloroform, makes you a pretty fierce contender even if you are only 7 inches tall! As Dr. Mary Robinson (Janice Logan), Logan held it all together while the men were scattering like mice from the menacing google eyed Dr. Cyclops played superbly by Albert Dekker.
FAY HELM 1909-2003
Fay Helm played Ann Terry in one of my favorite unsung noir/thriller gems Phantom Lady 1944 where it was all about the ‘hat’ and she co-starred as Nurse Strand along side John Carradine in Captive Wild Woman. Fay played Mrs. Duval in the Inner Sanctum mystery Calling Dr. Death with Lon Chaney Jr. 1943
Fay Helm plays Jenny Williams in Curt Siodmak’s timeless story directed by George Waggner for Universal and starring son of a thousand faces Lon Chaney Jr in his most iconic role Larry Talbot as The Wolf Man 1941
Fay as Jenny Williams: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
Fay was in Night Monster 1942. Directed by Ford Beebe the film starred Bela Lugosi as a butler to Lionel Atwill a pompous doctor who falls prey to frighting nocturnal visitations. I particularly love the atmosphere of this little chiller with it’s swampy surroundings and it’s metaphysical storyline.
Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey) a psychologist is called to the mysterious Ingston Mansion, to evaluate the sanity of Margaret Ingston, played by our horror heroine Fay Helm daughter of Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan) a recluse who invites the doctors to his eerie mansion who left him in a wheelchair.
Fay gives a terrific performance surrounded by all the ghoulish goings on! She went on to co-star with Bela Lugosi and Jack Haley in the screwball scary comedy One Body Too Many (1944)
LOUISE CURRIE 1913-2013
Bela Lugosi as half ape half man, really needed a shave badly in The Ape Man 1943, and Louise Currie and her wonder whip might have been the gorgeous blonde dish to make him go for the Barbasol. One of the most delicious parts of the film was it’s racy climax as Emil Van Horn in a spectacle of a gorilla suit rankles the cage bars longing for Currie’s character, Billie Mason the tall blonde beauty. As Bela skulks around the laboratory and Currie snaps her whip in those high heels. The film’s heroine was a classy dame referred to as Monogram’s own Katharine Hepburn! She had a great affection for fellow actor Bela Lugosi and said that she enjoyed making Poverty Row films more than her bit part in Citizen Kane! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that she appeared in several serials, from both Universal & Republic like The Green Hornet and Captain Marvel.
Tom Weaver in his book Poverty Row HORRORS! described The Ape Man as “a Golden Turkey of the most beloved kind.”
Louise Currie followed up with another sensational title for Monogram as Stella Saunders in Voodoo Man 1944 which again features Lugosi as Dr. Richard Marlowe who blends voodoo with hypnosis in an attempt to bring back his dead wife. The film also co-stars George Zucco as a voodoo high priest and the ubiquitous John Carradine as Toby a bongo playing half-wit “Don’t hurt her Grego, she’s a pretty one!”
EVELYN ANKERS 1918-1985
From Gregory William Mank’s Women in Horror FIlms, 1940s “Universal leading ladies had been a fascinating lot. A striking sometimes kinky parade of beauties and talents. Often almost as eccentric as the horror shows themselves.”
Then came Evelyn Ankers... looking stunning in her Vera West 40s glamour gowns. As Mank says in his fantastic book, “She had a lush, classic full throated scream”, and gave “charming, low-key performances.”
This blonde bombshell who lit up the screen with her intoxicating good looks and a set of lungs that made her one of THE BEST screamers in horror cinema of the 40s! Alexander Korda signed her to MGM when she was merely 18. Her first film was The Bells of St. Mary’s 1936 Her first leading role was in a British thriller called Murder in the Family 1938 co-starring Jessica Tandy, Roddy McDowall and Glynis Johns. On Broadway in 1940 she played the maid in the theatrical version of Ladies in Retirement which starred the wonderful Flora Robson.
Universal spotted her while on tour with the play in L.A. They needed a leading lady to play Norma Lind for their Abbott & Costello romp Hold That Ghost 1941. Bud & Lou play gas station attendants who inherit a gangster’s fortune and find themselves stranded in an old dark house that’s haunted!
The comic pair were forever goosing Evelyn on the set. But she found her niche and went on to become immortalized as Gwen Conliffe who’s ill fate it was to fall for the doomed to be hairy by the light of the full moon… Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.)
One of the great voyeuristic moments in The Wolf Man is when Larry using the giant phallic telescope in his dad’s ‘observatory’ focuses it on Gwen’s bedroom and spies on her while she poses in front of the mirror at her dressing table. Then the flirtatious augury occurs when Gwen shows Larry the silver wolf’s head cane in her father’s antique shop. At the film’s climax the lovely Evelyn Ankers rushes through the fog filled forest, the gnarly trees silhouetted by the full moon and she in her best high heels comes upon The Wolf Man who fondles her with his hairy clawed hands. With his hot canine breath he bares his massive fangs and snarls in her face, as she screams hysterically right on cue!
Ankers went on to play Elsa Frankenstein the daughter of Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) in The Ghost of Frankenstein 1942. Again, Ankers got to let out one of her memorable screams when she’s in her father’s study one stormy night, reading over Henry Frankenstein’s notes on the mysteries of life and death.
Ralph Bellamy plays the heroine’s fiance Erik.
She catches a monstrous shadow on the wall only to discover Lon Chaney Jr as the Monster and Bela as Ygor staring at her though the rain splattered window. She of course let’s out one of her signature screams!
She played Kitty in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror in 1943 and then went on to get star billing as Beth Coleman the girlfriend of a circus lion tamer in the lurid Captive Wild Woman where John Carradine has his first starring role as Dr. Sigmund Walters who likes to fiddle around with genetic not unlike Island of Lost Souls’ Dr. Moreau! He transforms a gorilla into Aquanetta!, the sensual ape woman who lusts like a wild animal.
Ankers then played Isabel Lewis in The Mad Ghoul 1943 George Zucco is Dr Alfred Morris a mad chemistry professor who experiments with ancient Mayan nerve gas on his medical students, creating a ‘living death’ turning David Bruce into the film’s title character who must sustain himself by murdering people for their hearts.
Evelyn Ankers is the perfect as the object of beauty, a concert singer engaged to college student Ted Allison (David Bruce) She falls in love with her pianist Eric Iverson (Turhan Bey) The mad Dr. Morris is also fixated on Isabel and will do anything to get her handsome fiance out of the way. What ghoulish fun!
PEGGY MORAN 1918-2002
Peggy a contract player at Universal was in one of their most profitable “B’ movies. She plays Marta Solvani in The Mummy’s Hand 1940 co-starring with Wallace Ford, George Zucco, Eduardo Ciannelli, Cecil Kellaway , Dick Foran and Tom Tyler as the love lorn Mummy Kharis. Here Ford and Foran have to rescue Marta from the lecherous clutches of George Zucco’s Professor Andoheb who offers her eternal life!
She also played along side Dick Foran once again, this time as Wendy Creighton in Horror Island 1941 a little horror jaunt about hidden treasure on a haunted island directed by George Waggner. Interesting tidbit, Peggy Moran had dated Franchot Tone in 1940 during her final 1940 film where she co-starred with the handsome actor in Trail of the Vigilantes, before Joan Crawford had cast her spell on him.
MARIA OUSPENSKAYA 1876-1949
Maria Ouspenskaya the beautiful Russian actress who plays the old gypsy woman Maleva had been nominated for an Academy Award for her role as in Dodsworth 1936 co-starring one of my favs Mary Astor. Ouspenskaya has a regal aspect whether she’s driving an old caravan or portraying the Baroness Von Obersdorf. And it’s not just because I’m a Russian gypsy too… well maybe just a little.She looks an awful lot like my great Aunt Edith who used to read the cards. And let’s face it, it’s just really fun to say Ouspenskaya…!
She’s theatrical and wonderful to watch as the ill fated Lon Chaney Jr as Larry Talbot wanders through the fog soaked screen chasing after Evelyn Ankers in Jack Pierce’s fabulous fur make-up. His poor father Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains another fav of mine) having to wield the silver wolf’s head cane in order to strike the fatal blow to his own son.
The Wolf Man 1941 as the memorable Maleva the gypsy she reprises her role as Maleva in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man 1943
Madame Cecile Roget in Mystery of Maria Roget 1942 A detective tries to unravel the strange circumstances surrounding the death of a young actress, with Patrick Knowles and Maria Montez.
Lenore Aubert appeared in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello meet the Killer, and The Catman of Paris.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Abbott & Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
UNA MERKEL 1903-1986
Una Merkel is Aunt Margaret Wentworth Lionel Atwill plays the consummate mad scientist who’s experiments on reanimating the dead from a frozen state, becomes exposed and so he must flee to a tropical island where he can continue his on the locals. Una Markel is marvelous as she adds some comic relief in The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942
Una is best known for her role, playing the ditsy daughter of W.C. Fields in The Bank Dick.
EDITH BARRETT 1907-1977
Edith Barrett was married to actor Vincent Price from 1938 to 1948. That just makes me like her right off the bat. And…They have a son, Vincent Barret Price. To Edith Barrett’s classical horror credit Ladies in Retirement 1941, I Walked With a Zombie 1943, The Ghost Ship 1943, Jane Eyre 1943
During the 1930s, she performed with Orson Welle’s Mercury troupe. It’s while performing in The Shoemaker’s Holiday in 1937 she met and married leading man Vincent Price. Perhaps her most notable role is the mother in law Mrs Holland in I Walked with a Zombie 1943. Interesting that she played Tom Conway’s mother yet Edith was actually three years younger than her co-star.
She is best remembered for her films “Ladies in Retirement” (1941), “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943), “The Song of Bernadette” (1943), “The Ghost Ship” (1943), “Jane Eyre” (1944), “Strangers in the Night” (1944), “The Keys of the Kingdom” (1944), “Ruthless” (1948).
Edith Barrett played the childlike oddball Louisa Creed in Ladies in Retirement, In Val Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie she played Mrs. Rand, Ellen Roberts in The Ghost Ship, and Mrs. Fairfax in Jane Eyre.
ELIZABETH RUSSELL 1916-2002
The Corpse Vanishes 1942, The Seventh Victim 1943 as an uncredited Cat Woman in Cat People, The tragic yet deranged Barbara Farren in Curse of the Cat People 1944,as Mistress Sims in Bedlam 1946 Val Lewton regular. She got to play an uncredited telephone operator in one of my fav 50s sci-fi The Monolith Monsters ’57
In Gregory Mank’s book he refers to Russell as a ‘satanic Marlene Dietrich’…
She was part of Val Lewton’s RKO horror unit. Blonde and long legged, again Mank writes, “remarkably striking actress evoked in the movies some Renaissance painter’s concept of Lucifer’s mistress.”
Lewton produced films that seemed to bare a confluence of blending two distinct essences, beauty and fear. Russell played Mimi the death fearing prostitute in The Seventh Victim, Kitty- Boris Karloff’s gin swigging tramp in Bedlam. And for me the most powerfully evocative menacing yet sad and loveless Barbara Farren in The Curse of the Cat People.
For Monogram Pictures she played the evil Countess Lorenz who’s husband Bela Lugosi kidnaps young brides in The Corpse Vanishes. Using their spinal fluid to keep his nefarious wife young and beautiful!
ELLEN DREW 1915-2003
Ellen Drew somehow never gained the attention other Hollywood actresses managed to. She remained on the fringe most her career. Although she did appear in Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July 1940 and playing Nelle Marchettis in noirs Johnny O’Clock (1947) But I’ll always be fond of her beautiful smile and her roles in…
Thea in Isle of the Dead, Strange Confession 1944, The Monster and The Girl & The Mad Doctor 1941 not to mention how beautiful she looked as Nina Martin in The Crooked Way ’49 noir amnesia thriller with John Payne.
SIMONE SIMON 1910-2005
Val Lewton was a young producer newly chosen at RKO to head up a horror project for the film studio. It was a production that was set to compete with the success that Universal was having with it’s monster pictures. The news was that it was an avant-gard horror script written by DeWitt Bodeen, who had imbued his story with the knowledge of Lewton’s real-life phobia of cats. But the true mystique of the film was it’s star Simone Simon as the ‘cat woman’ Irena Dubrovna. In tabloid style there were hosts of rumors about this sensual woman born in France but traveled all over the world as a child. That she walked a leopard on a leash. According to Mank’s book, she once tore her 20th Century-Fox dressing room to shreds during a tantrum. She was known to be temperamental on the sets of her films. At RKO she played the bedazzling witch from the mountains in The Devil and Daniel Webster 1941. Val Lewton had personally picked Simon for the role of Irena in Cat People becoming one of the most iconic faces of classic horror in history. She gave an intensely marvelous performance filled with an eroticism and tragic sensibility. She then went on to create a gentle shade of Irena in The Curse of the Cat People. As the ghostly friend to the troubled wispy child Ann Carter. Simon remembers Jacques Tourneur being a very nice man and seeing Elizabeth Russell all made up on the set of Cat People and being so striking!
JANE RANDOLPH 1915-2009
RKO picked up Jane’s contract from Warner Bros. She is known for her vulnerable femmes in distress in film noir, classics like Jealousy (1945) and Railroaded! (1947)
Jane plays the squeaky clean Alice Moore love interest to Kent Smith’s Oliver Reed. Menaced by the sexually ferocious yet ambivalent Irena (Simone Simon) who stalks her by the pool in the Lewtonesque shadows. Finally getting to marry Oliver and becoming a mother to little antisocial Amy (Ann Carter) who is the only one who sees the ethereal Irena, a kind and gentle spirit or is she the manifestation of childhood loneliness?
Jane Randolph’s only release in 1943 was RKO’s The Falcon Strikes Back, directed by Edward Dymytryk
One of Jane’s last movies would be the classic comedy thriller Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Randolph remembers Abbott & Costello as being extremely funny and marvelous to work with. Also saying that Bela Lugosi was a nice person and Lon Chaney was easy to work with.
As IMDb mini bio starts out saying Anne is a ‘Vivid, strikingly beautiful actress Anne Gwynne arrived in Hollywood a typical starry-eyed model looking to become a big film star, and ended up one of Universal Studio’s favorite screamers in “B” horror films”.
Such films as…
Black Friday 1940, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, The Black Cat 1941, as Elaine Winslow, The Strange Case of Dr Rx, Murder in the Blue Room and House of Frankenstein. The Ghosts Go Wild, Killer Diller and Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome with Boris Karloff , Teenage Monster 1958 and noir films like Breakdown ’52
Anne Gwynn in an all star cast The Black Cat 1941 featuring Basil Rathbone, Hugh Hubert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, the great Gladys Copper and Gale Sondergaard, Clair Dodd and Alan Ladd.
ILONA MASSEY 1910-1974
Ilona Massey had played sophisticated seductresses in thrillers and spy capers but is probably best known for her role as Baroness Elsa Frankenstien in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman 1943 and romping around with those ribald Marx Bros in Love Happy 1949
Patricia Morison played Barby Taviton in film noir’s The Fallen Sparrow starring John Garflied. She was Mrs.Hilda Courtney along side Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Homes in Dressed to kill 1946 and Stella Madden alongside Lon Chaney Jr. in Calling Dr Death 1943 Eve Ruppert in Danger Woman 1946.
She also played Empress Eugenie in The Song of Bernadette 1943. Morison with her raven like dark tresses was herself a trained singer.
JEAN PARKER 1915-2005
Jean played wise cracking Det. Humphrey Campbell’s (Chester Morris) wife, Louis Campbell in No Hands on the Clock 1941. Then as Mary Kirk Logan on death row in Lady in the Death House 1944. But she attains a horror heroine badge from me as she was Heather Hayden in Dead Man’s Eyes with Lon Chaney Jr in 1944 and then as the object of desire/death Lucille Lutien to John Carradine’s Gaston Morel in Bluebeard 1944.
She also appeared in One Body Too Many with Fay Helm.
Aquanetta was a B-rated movie actress (born as Mildred Davenport) in Ozone, Wyoming in 1921. She was nicknamed the “Venezualan Volcano” by Universal Studios.
In 1942, she landed a contract at Universal Pictures, where she played a succession of jungle girls and exotic beauties in forgettable films. She was nicknamed “The Venezuelan Volcano by publicists. She is perhaps best remembered for her role in Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) where she was the leader of the jungle cat cult.
Other films included Arabian Nights (1942), Captive Wild Woman (1943), and The Sword of Monte Cristo (1951). She also appeared in the Inner Sanctum Mystery Dead Man’s Eyes (1944) with Lon Chaney, Jr
I’d like to be able to say that I found other flattering photos of this beauty not drenched in sexualizing leopard skin that erotizes ‘exotic’ females and I use that word facetiously as I find the word exotic offensive as if women who are not white are somehow ‘other’ But this is a fun post so I won’t go into a sociological rant. The point is, I couldn’t find a photo of Aquanetta not baring more animal skin and even more of her own skin! You don’t see Evelyn Ankers in a get up like that with animal print unless it was one of her fancy hats!
Captive Wild Women, Jungle Woman, Dead Man’s Eyes Tarzan and the Leopard Woman
SUSANNA FOSTER 1924-2009
From the IMDb mini bio
Susanna Foster was brought to Hollywood at the age of 12 by MGM, who sent her to school and groomed her for a singing and acting career.Two of her classmates in school were Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Oddly enough, MGM never used her, and she was signed by Paramount in 1939, where she made The Great Victor Herbert (1939). William Randolph Hearst was so impressed with her, after seeing her in that film, that he had her flown out to his mansion for a private recital for him and Marion Davies. She signed with Universal in 1941, and was used basically as leverage against Deanna Durbin, to keep her in line. Reportedly, Phantom of the Opera (1943), Susanna’s most famous role, was a Durbin reject.
JEAN BROOKS 1915-1963
That strikingly beautiful face, iconic hair style and haunting dazzle in those darkly sad eyes from producer Lewton’s Gothic morbid masterpiece The Seventh Victim cast the right woman as Jacqueline Gibson for this quietly disturbing tale of urban devil worship. Jean has an otherworldly quality. I can hear her voice in the film, “I run to death, and death meets me as fast, And all my pleasures are like Yesterday.”
She also did another Lewton film as Kiki the showgirl heroine in The Leopard Man. Losing her Cleopatra style hair and wicked spirit, revealing her own blonde hair.
She had a small role in the New York City-filmed The Crime of Doctor Crespi 1935
She had been married to writer/director Richard Brooks. She was finally dropped by RKO by 1946. For many years she was listed as a “Lost Player” who’s memory was kept alive by several magazine articles written by Doug McClelland. Sadly and tragically she died from complication of alcoholism in 1963
Jean appeared in The Seventh Victim, The Leopard Man, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe and The Invisible Man Returns. Check out the rest of this intriguing actresses’ films at IMDb
Allbritton appeared in Son of Dracula 1943, and Walked a crooked mile 1948
Before she was kindly Dr Marcus Welby’s all around nurse and good egg Consuelo Lopez but she starred as Ilonka in House of Frankenstein 1944 and Nina Coudreau in The Frozen Ghost along side Lon Chaney Jr and Evelyn Ankers.
Miss Lu The Cat and The Canary 1939, The Black Cat 1941 as Abigail Doone, The Invisible Man’s Revenge 1944, The Spider Woman 1943, The Climax 1944 Miss Zenobia Dollard in The Spider Woman Strikes Back & The Time of their Lives 1946, The Letter 1940,
From IMDb Bio-Sly, manipulative, dangerously cunning and sinister were the key words that best described the roles that Gale Sondergaard played in motion pictures, making her one of the most talented character actresses ever seen on the screen. She was educated at the University of Minnesota and later married director Herbert J. Biberman. Her husband went to find work in Hollywood and she reluctantly followed him there. Although she had extensive experience in stage work, she had no intention of becoming an actress in film. Her mind was changed after she was discovered by director Mervyn LeRoy, who offered her a key role in his film Anthony Adverse (1936); she accepted the part and was awarded the very first Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress.
LeRoy originally cast her as the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but she felt she was not right for that role. Instead, she co-starred opposite Paul Muni in The Life of Emile Zola (1937), a film that won Best Picture in 1937. Sondergaard’s most-remembered role was that of the sinister and cunning wife of a husband murdered by Bette Davis‘ character in The Letter (1940). Sondergaard continued her career rise in films such as Juarez (1939), The Mark of Zorro (1940), The Black Cat (1941), and Anna and the King of Siam (1946). Unfortunately, she was blacklisted when she refused to testify during the McCarthy-inspired “Red Scare” hysteria in the 1950s. She eventually returned to films in the 1960s and made her final appearance in the 1983 film Echoes (1982). Gale Sondergaard passed away of an undisclosed illness at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, at the age of 86.
What can I say… I adore Gale Sondergaard. She’s got one of those memorable demeanors like Agnes Moorehead that you get instantly drawn to. At least for me that is. From her stalwart housekeeper Emily in The Time of Their Lives to her outrageous portrayal of The Spider Woman who adores her killer Venus Flytrap in The Spider Woman Strikes Back. Any role Gale Sondergaard touched turned to cinematic gold.
Virginia Christine has appeared in too many films and television series to mention in my little collection of 40s horror heroines. Just click on her name and it will take you to IMDb’s profile of her prolific acting career. Quickly imagine, Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, The Killer is Loose, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 1967,tv movie Daughter of the Mind 1969, and tv shows like The Invaders, The Fugitive, Perry Mason, Ben Casey and THRILLER
But for our horror heroine of the 40s purposes we’ll give her credit for The Mummy’s Curse 1944, House of Horrors 1946 and hell she gets points from me for even being in the violently brilliant noir thriller, The Killers 1946
Virginia Christine is also perhaps one of my favorite character actors, that familiar face you see on retro television programs that just make you smile when ever she shows up. Sometimes I forget that she was carried off in Lon Chaney Jr’s gauze wrapped arms in The Mummy’s Curse!
FRANCIS DEE 1909-2004
Dee was in Payment on Demand in 1951 co-starring with Bette Davis
Frances Dee met Joel McCrea on the set of the 1933 film The Silver Chord. The two were married later that year in Rye, New York. They were married for 57-years til McCrea died in 1990. Dee hadn’t acted since the mid-50s, and said she didn’t miss it.
Known for The Monster Maker 1944 Bowery at Midnight, The Black Raven and Voodoo Man
Once she moved to New York City to become a model. She splattered the covers on many national magazines, and was selected as the model for the Chesterfield Girl. Wanda McKay’s face appeared on Chesterfield ads and billboards across the United States! But you can see her as Patricia Lawrence in The Monster Maker with J. Carol Naish as the twisted Dr Igor Markoff who injects Patricia’s father (Ralph Morgan) a concert pianist with the acromegaly virus. Patricia happens to resemble Igor Markoff’s dead wife!
VIRGINIA GRAY 1917-2004
Directed by Jean Yarbrough An unsuccessful sculptor saves a serial killer “The Creeper” (Rondo Hatton) from drowning. Seeking revenge, he tricks the psycho into murdering his critics. Virginia Grey plays an art critic Joan Medford who has great instincts and pushes to find out about a mysterious bust Marcel De Lange (Martin Koslek) has suspiciously covered in his studio. Maybe it’s a marble flesh eater?
JANE ADAMS Born August 7th 1921-
40s classic horror heroine films she’s notable for….
Lost City of the Jungle 1946 as Marjorie Elmore
ANNE REVERE 1903-1990
I’ll always think of Anne Revere very fondly as an earthy and quietly dignified actress. Rooted in a humanistic realism that she brought to her roles. I particularly love her contribution to Boris Karloff’s beautifully eerie gem directed by Edward Dmytryk The Devil Commands 1941. It’s one of my favorite films. Revere plays Mrs Blanche Walters a phony medium who assists Karloff yet has sinister designs on his work. This is one of his sympathetic scientist roles as Dr Julian Blair who has lost his wife in an auto accident. Blair does research in brain waves, using a very esoteric type of machinery likened to the Medieval torture devices, where ones dons bizarre metal helmets as he attempts to communicate with the dead, obsessively trying to contact his wife. Revere is magnificent as the nefarious Mrs Walters! It’s one of my all time favorite classic horror films.
Anne Revere was a versatile veteran character actress born on June 25, 1903 in New York City. A direct descendant of American Revolutionary hero, Paul Revere. Her first film was 1934’s Double Door. An intriguing mystery where she plays Caroline Van Brett the timid and brow beaten sister to the matriarchal borderline psychotic sister Victoria played by Mary Morris.
Revere’s career spanned over 40s years where she inhabited the role of the maternal mother figure. She played Monty Clift’s mother Hannah Eastman in A Place in the Sun 1951.
She played Gene Tierney’s mother Abigail Wells who is distant from her daughter, in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s dark and disturbing Dragonwyck 1946 with Vincent Price as Nicholas Van Ryn who terrifies his wife, the servants, the farmers he rules over as he hides up in his tower doing god knows what?
She nominated for the Academy Award for The Song of Bernadette (1943) and Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947) for which she won an Oscar.
ANNA LEE 1913-2004
She had been in The Man Who Live Again 1936 along side Boris Karloff where she portrays Dr Clare Wyatt.
Anna Lee was first in an anthology of three loosely connected occult tales of an ironic and romantic nature, stories based on Oscar Wilde..It’s one of the most hauntingly beautiful hidden surreal horror gems from the 40s directed by Julien Duvivier Anna Lee plays Rowena in the second segment of Flesh and Fantasy 1943
Most memorable for me is her performance in Val Lewton/Mark Robson’s Bedlam 1946 Anna Lee was marvelous as Mistress Nell Bowan a strong willed woman who challenges the cruel and psychotic Boris Karloff as Master George Sims of St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum or Bedlam. Nell becomes a trapped inside the asylum and must find a way out while still on a mission to reform the conditions of the place. Lee brings a strength and clarity to her role as Nell Bowan who starts out a rebel and becomes savior. Bedlam is perhaps one of Lewton’s best works.
Then Anna Lee appeared in The Ghost and Mrs Muir 47 which starred the gorgeous Gene Tierney as Mrs Muir. Anna plays George Sanders wife Mrs Miles Fairly.
HEATHER ANGEL- 1909-1986
From IMDb Mini Biography
Heather Grace Angel was born in Oxford, England, on February 9, 1909. She dabbled on the stage for a time before coming to California to try her luck on the screen. Heather was 20 years old when she landed a bit part for the 1929 film, Bulldog Drummond (1929). Although she didn’t know it at the time, she would become a staple of that particular series eight years hence.
Heather Angel appeared in these 40s tinglers! Shadows on the Stairs, Suspicion, The Undying Monster & Alfred Hitchock’s Lifeboat. and earlier in the 30s appeared as Mary McPhillip in John Ford’s The Informer 1935
Lenore Aubert appeared in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello meet the Killer, and The Catman of Paris.
BRENDA JOYCE 1917-2009
MARTHA O’DRISCOLL 1922-1998
RUTH HUSSEY 1911-2005
Ruth played the lovely Pamela Fitzgerald in The Uninvited 1944
RAMSAY AMES 1919-1928
Ramsay appeared in Calling Dr Death, The Mummy’s Ghost, Ghost Catchers noir The Black Widow and Green Dolphin Street
WELL THAT’S IT FOR NOW FOLKS, WE’LL BE BACK WITH THE LADIES OF CLASSIC 30s HORROR HEROINES!
Special mention to Linda Darnell for Hangover Square and Merle Oberon for The Lodger ’44 and Gene Tierney for Dragonwyck & The Ghost and Mrs Muir!
Thanks to such great source material by Gregory William Mank’s book Women in Horror Films, 1940s!
See you around The Last Drive In Snack Bar-Hope you enjoyed this little Halloween treat!!!!
Your Ever Lovin’ MonsterGirl