Audrey Mary Totter
December 20, 1917
Joliet, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||December 12, 2013 (aged 95)|
Audrey – some sources indicate "Audra" – Totter was born in 1917 and grew up in Joliet in Will County in northeastern Illinois. Her parents were John Totter, who was born in Slovenia with birth name Janez, and Ida Mae Totter. Her father was of Austro-Slovenian descent and her mother was Swedish American. She had two brothers, Folger and George, and a sister, Collette.
Totter graduated from Joliet High School, where she acted in school plays. According to Totter, she was a Methodist who also began her career performing in several productions for her local church as well as being involved with the YWCA players.
Totter began her acting career in radio in the latter 1930s in Chicago, only 40 miles northeast of Joliet. She played in soap operas, including Painted Dreams, Road of Life, Ma Perkins, and Bright Horizon.
Following success in Chicago and New York City, Totter was signed to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. She made her film debut in Main Street After Dark (1945) and established herself as a popular female lead in the 1940s. Because of her limited skill as a singer, MGM used Harriet Lee as her voice double in the 1945 film, Dangerous Partners. Although she performed in various film genres, she became most widely known to movie audiences for her work in film noir. Looking back, Totter stated in August 1999, "The bad girls were so much fun to play. I wouldn't have wanted to play Coleen's good-girl parts."
Among her successes were:
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with John Garfield and Lana Turner
- Lady in the Lake (1947) with Robert Montgomery and Jayne Meadows
- The Unsuspected (1947 for Warner Bros.) with Claude Rains
- High Wall (1947) with Robert Taylor
- The Saxon Charm (1948) with Robert Montgomery, Susan Hayward and John Payne
- Alias Nick Beal (1949) with Ray Milland
- The Set-Up (1949) with Robert Ryan
- Any Number Can Play (1949) with Clark Gable and Alexis Smith
- Tension (1950) with Richard Basehart
- The Blue Veil (1951) with Jane Wyman
- FBI Girl (1951) with Cesar Romero and George Brent
- The Sellout (1952) with Walter Pidgeon, John Hodiak, and Paula Raymond
By the early 1950s, the tough-talking "dames" she was best known for portraying were no longer fashionable, and as MGM began streamlining its roster of contract players and worked towards creating more family-themed films, Totter was released from her contract. She reportedly was dissatisfied with her MGM career and agreed to appear in Any Number Can Play only after Clark Gable intervened. After leaving MGM, she worked for Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, but the quality of her films dropped, and by the late 1950s, her film career was in decline, though she continued to work steadily for television.
In 1954, Totter appeared in the pilot episode of the later 1957–58 detective series, Meet McGraw with Frank Lovejoy and in 1955, she appeared in an episode of Science Fiction Theatre entitled "Spider, Inc". She appeared with Joseph Cotten and William Hopper in the 1957 episode "The Case of the Jealous Bomber" of NBC's anthology series, The Joseph Cotten Show. In 1957, she was cast as a woman doctor, Louise Kendall, in the episode "Strange Quarantine" of the NBC Western series, The Californians.
In 1958, Totter was cast as Martha Fullerton, the widow of a man killed by the gunfighter Matt Reardon (John Russell) in the episode "The Empty Gun" of the ABC/Warner Bros. Western series, Cheyenne, with Clint Walker in the title role. In the story line, Reardon is befriended by Cheyenne Bodie as Reardon tries to make amends to Martha, the woman he once loved. Standing between them is her vengeful son, Mike (Sean Garrison), who calls Reardon out for a final gunfight with a tragic ending. Tod Griffin plays Sheriff Frank Day.
Later in 1958, Totter played boarding house owner Beth Purcell in another NBC Western series, Cimarron City. The episodes were supposed to have rotated among star George Montgomery as the mayor, John Smith as blacksmith/deputy sheriff Lane Temple, and Totter, but when the writers failed to feature her character, she left the series. In 1960, she was in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock presents: “ Madame Mystery”. From 1962 to 1963, she starred as homemaker Alice MacRoberts in the ABC situation comedy Our Man Higgins, with Stanley Holloway, Frank Maxwell, and Ricky Kelman. In 1964, she made a guest appearance on CBS's Perry Mason as defendant Reba Burgess in the title role of "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound".
Totter played a continuing role from 1972 to 1976, that of Nurse Wilcox, the efficient head nurse, in the CBS television series Medical Center, with James Daly and Chad Everett. Her last acting role was as a nun, Sister Paul, in a 1987 episode ("Old Habits Die Hard") of CBS's Murder, She Wrote, with Angela Lansbury.
Personal life and death
Totter was married to Dr. Leo Fred, assistant dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, from 1953 until his death in 1995. The couple had one child, a daughter. In 2013, eight days before her 96th birthday, Totter died of a stroke. After a memorial service, her body was cremated and her ashes scattered in the Pacific.
- "Audrey Totter, 1940s film noir actress, dead at 95". Nydailynews.com. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
- Notice of death of Audrey Totter, L.A. Times, December 14, 2013.
- Most references cite 1918 as her year of birth but Intelius indicates the year was 1917, as do Ancestry.com's United States census records, which give her age in April 1930 as twelve years old, and in January 1920 (see below) as two years old
- Year: 1920
Census Place: Joliet Ward 1, Will, Illinois
Enumeration District: 185
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]
Provo, UT, US: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29
National Archives, Washington, D.C.
For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 are on roll 323 (Chicago City)
- Zylstra, Freida (March 20, 1950). "Joliet's Audrey Totter Climbs to Movie Stardom". Illinois, Chicago. Chicago Tribune. p. Part 2 - Page 5. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
- An Interview With Audrey Totter, Skip E. Lowe, 1989
- "Harriet Lee (Filmography)". TCM.com. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
- Matt Schudel (December 15, 2013). "Actress was known as film noir femme fatale". The Washington Post. p. C8. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
- Bernard Weinraub (August 23, 1999). "They're Gorgeous, Mysterious and Ready to Make a Sap Out of You". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-24.
- "Meet McGraw". Classic TV Archives. Archived from the original on 2011-10-03. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
- "The Empty Gun: Cheyenne". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 3, 2014.
- "Women Of Today Are Fools!". Ohio, Dover. The Daily Reporter. August 1, 1959. p. 13. Retrieved December 11, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Wilson, Scott (16 September 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476625997. Retrieved 24 August 2017 – via Google Books.
- Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
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