Dorothy Malone

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Dorothy Malone Pencil Portrait
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It’s the briefest of appearances but coming as it does, so early on, she makes an impression that resonates, nay sizzles. Investigating a phony bookshop that operates as a front for a pornography ring, the private eye seeks refuge from torrential rain in a legitimate book store across the street . There he meets a young woman with an understated alluring vibe, complete with combed back hair and spectacles. It’s all there beautifully in place but Philip Marlowe can’t see it until she exudes that librarian vibe by admitting “You begin to interest me…vaguely.” She gives him the information he needs and as he begins to leave, she says, “It’s coming down pretty hard out there,” that certain inflection in her voice betraying a disinterest in the weather. Convincing him to stay, she flips the sign, lowers the shade, takes off her glasses and teases her hair down. “Looks like we’re closed for the rest of the afternoon.”

It’s fornication 1946 style, and Humphrey Bogart can barely believe his luck. The woman is Dorothy Malone, a future Oscar winner yet perennial support player in Hollywood. Blonde or brunette, she was one hell of a vision. All you had to do was look, re-look and look yet again.

Her one shining moment in ‘The Big Sleep’ with Bogart should have led to more leading roles; what followed was something else, a near bewildering series of homespun portrayals as an understanding wife, nurse, and neighbour. Occasionally, the subject matter was superior Hollywood fare – ‘The Killer That Stalked New York’ a case in point, where she combats a small pox epidemic set off by a diamond smuggler returning from overseas. In all of these films, however, she is called upon to be little more than considerate and pleasing on the eye; her thankless role as Barry Sullivan’s overly understanding wife in the lackluster ‘Loophole,’ the undoubted low point of this rather benign genre. Then suddenly, ressurection appeared in the form of kitchen sink melodramas. Here, finally, we encounter the Dorothy Malone who should have been leading men to their doom in all those film noirs, her bedroom eyes finally beckoning to the boudoir. ‘Sure, I’ll ruin your life,’ her characters seemed to say ‘but, damn it, I’ll be worth it’.

In 1956, she dyed her hair platinum blonde and starred in Douglas Sirk’s masterpiece ‘Written On The Wind’. Malone plays the nymphomaniac sister of alcoholic playboy Robert Stack and she’s in love with Stack’s best friend Rock Hudson. Her feelings are unrequieted as he’s in love with Stack’s pregnant wife Lauren Bacall. Suitably scorned she sets out to convince Stack that Bacall’s baby really belongs to Hudson. This blonde is having fun in a no holds barred melodrama, a wide screen bonanza of lush interior design eye-popping Technicolor, snazzy costume changes, whispered pleas of love, shouted denunciations, alcohol consumption by the gallon, and enough implied sex to start an STD epidemic.
She’s as dangerous as hell yet the most exciting thing up there on the screen. The film was a smash hit, made Malone a star, and won her a best supporting Oscar at the 1957 Academy awards. This led her to some plum roles; reteaming with Sirk and Hudson for ‘The Tarnished Angels’, headlining the Barrymore biopic ‘Too Much Too Soon’, and upstaging Henry Fonda in ‘Warlock’.

In the mid 60’s her biggest role was on the mother of all prime-time soap operas, ‘Peyton Place.’ Her tempestuous relationship with the producers eventually led to her dismissal and she sued for breach of contract, eventually settling out of court. After that she worked steadily in television, with occasional forays into film, until she retired in the early 1990s. Her last film role was as Sharon Stone’s family-murdering friend Hazel Dobkins, in ‘Basic Instinct.’ If she’d been thirty years younger, Stone would have been out of her league; as it was you might have missed her cameo.

Malone’s life was rife with drama. In 1955, she learned that her sixteen year old brother, Will, had been killed by lightning on a Dallas golf course. Ten years later, she underwent life-saving surgery after more than 30 blood clots were found in her lungs. Medical updates, were flashed on the electronic ticker tape in New York’s Times Square and, thanks to a strong faith, she survived.

Malone continued to divide her time between movies and television. She appeared in one of American television’s first miniseries, “Rich Man, Poor Man” (1976), and reprised her role as Constance in the made-for-TV movies_ “Murder in Peyton Place”_ (1977) and “Peyton Place: The Next Generation” (1985). Her last feature film was “Basic Instinct,” in which she appeared fleetingly, but indelibly, in the role of a woman who had killed her children.

Malone’s first husband, Jacques Bergerac, left showbusiness at the end of the 60’s to become the head of Revlon’s Paris office. Originally a lawyer, he had met and married Ginger Rogers with whom he appeared in the 1954 picture ‘Twist of Fate.’ He also appeared in ‘Gigi’ (1958), ‘Thunder in the Sun’ (1959), the cult horror film ‘The Hypnotic Eye’ (1960), and ‘A Global Affair’ (1964). In 1957, he received the Golden Globe Award for Foreign Newcomer, divorcing Rogers in 1957 and remarrying in 1959, to Malone, with whom he had two children. He appeared in a few more films and on television, including ‘Batman’ (as Freddy the Fence, or French Freddy), ’77 Sunset Strip’, ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (“Safe Conduct” 1955; “The Legacy”, 1956; and “Return of the Hero”, 1958), ‘The Lucy Show’, ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ (“The Square Triangle”, 1962) and hosted “Paris ala Mode”. His last appearance was on ‘The Doris Day Show’ in 1969.

Malone’s marriage to Jacques Bergerac ended acrimoniously in 1964. The couple shared the responsibility in raising their two daughters, but their disagreements about custody often made headlines in the 1960s and 1970s. She remarried twice, but both marriages were short-lived, the first enduring for little more than a month.

Today, at the age of 89, she enjoys being with family and her six grandchildren. She also likes watching “Dancing With the Stars” and receiving fan mail, which continues to arrive from all over the world.

Recommended viewing

The Big Sleep (1946)

‘The Big Sleep’ was not Raymond Chandler’s favourite of his own novels but it is certainly the most famous.Along with ‘The Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Double Indemnity’, it has come to represent the high peak of the hardboiled genre. Unlike many of his contemporary crime writers, Chandler was always more interested in strong characterisation than any plotline. His Marlowe character was not always as receptive to every female as he was to Malone’s librarian. In the novel, when Carmen Sternwood pays a light night visit to Marlowe’s apartment, looking to seduce him, he throws her out and returns to his apartment. Reflecting on what has just happened he talks to his reader in the first person:

‘I went back to the bed and looked down at it. The imprint of her head was still in the pillow, of her small corrupt body still on the sheets, I put the empty glass down and tore the bed to pieces savagely.

For Malone it was merely a five minute scene but for males of a certain age, visiting a bookshop would never be the same again.

Written on the wind (1956)

Generally regarded as the best of director Douglas Sirk’s 1950s lush, vibrantly colorful melodramatic masterpieces, this flamboyant, overwrought potboiler boasts all the necessary ingredients for an absorbing critique of the underlying hollowness and shallowness of American society and its misfit lives both stunted and corrupted by mental anguish, alcoholism, sexual frustration, and corruptible materialistic wealth.

The movie is a stylishly debauched tale of a Texas oil magnate brought down by the excesses of his spoiled offspring and features an all-star quartet that includes Robert Stack as a pistol-packin’ alcoholic playboy; Lauren Bacall as his long-suffering wife; Rock Hudson as his earthy best friend; and Dorothy Malone (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance) as his nymphomaniac sister. She’s a whore for sure, but there’s no heart of gold.

Catch it if you can, on a late night re-run for Malone’s frantic, hip twisting, masturbatory mambo dance, a scene that prefaces her father’s sudden death.

Oscar night and Malone’s victorious evening – a win that should have assured her of a lifelong cinematic career, yet within eight years, her fame would be consigned to the small screen.


An informative timeline: