By Maureen Lee Lenker
October 16, 2020 at 10:29 PM EDT
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Credit: Archive Photos/Getty Images

Rhonda Fleming, a classic film star once known as the "Queen of Technicolor," has died at 97.

Her secretary, Carla Sapon, confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter.

Celebrated for her vibrant red hair and green eyes, Fleming was beloved by audiences for her presence in Technicolor movies, most notably 1949's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, opposite Bing Crosby. She was also well-known for her presence in film noir, particularly as the scheming Meta Carson in 1947's Out of the Past.

Fleming had her first substantial role in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, in which she played a nymphomaniac in a mental institution. She later joked about how she had to look up what the word nymphomaniac meant and was shocked to discover the definition.

She excelled in bad-girl and femme fatale roles, appearing in projects like Cry Danger (1951), While the City Sleeps (1956), The Killer Is Loose (1956), Inferno (1953), and Slightly Scarlet (1956). Fleming also had a knack for Westerns, appearing in The Eagle and the Hawk (1950), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), The Redhead and the Cowboy (1951), Pony Express (1953), and the 3D musical Those Redheads From Seattle (1953).

Putting her eye-catching tresses and bombshell looks to vibrant use, she also starred as a belly dancer in 1951's Little Egypt, as Cleopatra in 1953's Serpent of the Nile, and in her first leading role in 1947's tropical action film Adventure Island.

She garnered significant attention for singing and dancing on the opening-night bill of Las Vegas' Tropicana Hotel in May 1957, alongside the likes of Eddie Fisher.

Rhonda Fleming was born Marilyn Louis on Aug. 10, 1923, in Hollywood, into an acting family. While still a student at Beverly Hills High School, she began working as a film actress. Fleming was discovered by notorious Hollywood agent Henry Willson (recently depicted by Jim Parsons on Netflix's Hollywood), who implemented her name change and brought her to the attention of legendary producer David O. Selznick.

Selznick put her under contract, which led to her first notable role, in Spellbound. After earning her first starring role in Adventure Island, she auditioned for her part in Connecticut Yankee, a musical that allowed her to showcase her singing chops. She duetted with Crosby on "Once and For Always" and sang solo on "When Is Sometime."

She then worked opposite Bob Hope in The Great Lover, a massive hit. Notably, Fleming appeared opposite Ronald Reagan in four films from 1951 to 1955, including The Last Outpost and Hong Kong. Her other notable credits included 1958's Home Before Dark, 1959's The Big Circus with Victor Mature, and 1980's The Nude Bomb.

Fleming also worked in television, on shows like The Virginian, Wagon Train, Ellery Queen, McMillan & Wife, and The Love Boat.

She semi-retired in the 1960s, focusing on singing and nightclub performances. After 1975, her screen appearances significantly dwindled. In later life, she was a prominent advocate for cancer research, establishing the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic for Comprehensive Care at UCLA Medical Center in 1991. Later, she set up the Rhonda Fleming Mann Research Fellowship at the City of Hope.

Fleming was married six times, and her final husband was theater chain mogul Ted Mann (of what was formerly Mann's Chinese Theatre), who joined her in her philanthropic efforts.

She had one son, Kent Lane, via her marriage to doctor Thomas Lane, as well as two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

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