LOS ANGELES -- Actress Rhonda Fleming, the fiery redhead who appeared with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and other film stars of the 1940s and 1950s, has died. She was 97.
Fleming died Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif., assistant Carla Sapon told The Associated Press.
From her first film in color, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court " (1949) with Bing Crosby, Fleming became immensely popular with producers because of her vivid hues. It was an attraction she would later regret.
"Suddenly my green eyes were green. My red hair was flaming red. My skin was porcelain white," Fleming remarked in a 1990 interview. "There was suddenly all this attention on how I looked rather than the roles I was playing."
Before Reagan entered politics, the actress co-starred with him in "Hong Kong," "Tropic Zone," "The Last Outpost" and "Tennessee's Partner."
Fleming possessed a fine singing voice, and later in her career sang onstage in Las Vegas and in a touring act.
Fleming, born Marilyn Louis in Los Angeles in 1923, was discovered by a talent agent at 19 and was awarded a six-month contract at the studio of David Selznick. She played a bit part in the 1944 wartime drama "Since You Went Away," and then Alfred Hitchcock chose her to play a nymphomaniac in "Spellbound," starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.
"I rushed home, and my mother and I looked up 'nymphomaniac' in the dictionary," she recalled. "We were both shocked."
"Spellbound" led to another suspense film, "The Spiral Staircase," in which she was strangled by the villain, George Brent. With Selznick concentrating on the career of his wife, Jennifer Jones, he lost interest in his contract players, and Fleming left the studio to freelance.
She won a role in "A Connecticut Yankee," a Crosby musical based on the Mark Twain story, after Deanna Durbin dropped out to retire to France. Crosby was so impressed that he recommended her to Bob Hope, with whom she starred in "The Great Lover."
Among her 1950s films were "While the City Sleeps," directed by Fritz Lang and co-starring Dana Andrews. She played Cleopatra in the 1953 film "Serpent of the Nile."
After her film career cooled off, Fleming took a singing act to Las Vegas, appeared in TV shows and commercials, starred on Broadway in a revival of "The Women" and sang as the temptress Lalume in "Kismet" for the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera.
While still in her teens, Fleming married her high school sweetheart, Thomas Lane. A son, Kent, was born in 1941. Their marriage ended in 1947. Three other marriages also ended in divorce, to Beverly Hills surgeon Lewis Morrill, actor Lang Jeffries and producer-director Hall Bartlett.
In 1977, Fleming married mogul Ted Mann, who built the Mann Theater chain, and the marriage lasted until his death in 2001.
A couple of years after Mann died, Fleming married for a sixth time, to Derol Carlson, who died in 2017.
Information for this article was contributed by Bob Thomas of The Associated Press.