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Obituaries : Lillian Bronson; Longtime Actress, Model for Mural

August 04, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lillian Bronson, a character actress in television shows and more than 80 films who earned her most recent fame as the model for the controversial mural near the four-level interchange in Downtown Los Angeles called "Old Woman of the Freeway," has died. She was 92.

Miss Bronson, who had lived in Laguna Beach, died Tuesday in a San Clemente hospital, her friend Adriana Wilson said Wednesday.

Artist Kent Twitchell painted the mural, featuring white-haired Miss Bronson wearing an afghan spinning off into a night sky, in 1974 as part of a Los Angeles County art program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

His canvas was the 25-room Prince Hotel at 125 W. Temple St., selected for its visibility from the Hollywood Freeway. But in a controversy with building owners that led to litigation, the mural was painted over with a billboard in 1986. In 1992, Twitchell won an out-of-court settlement to cover the cost of restoring the mural and his attorney fees. Restoration has been partially completed.

Many people believed that the model for the mural was Twitchell's grandmother. But he said he selected Miss Bronson from a Screen Actors Guild catalogue--partly for her stately bearing and partly because she resembled two of his great-grandmothers.

A native of Lockport, N.Y., where her father designed and built carriages, Miss Bronson was educated at Bryn Mawr and the University of Michigan.

She began her career on Broadway, appearing in "Camille" with Lillian Gish and "Lean Harvest" with Leslie Banks.

During the Depression, Miss Bronson and her late sister, Dorothy, opened the Bronson Studio in New York, designing and making toy animals and pillows.

In Hollywood, Miss Bronson played society matrons and influential aides or relatives--Clark Gable's secretary in the 1947 film "The Hucksters," Claudette Colbert's sister in the 1948 "Family Honeymoon," and Henry Fonda's mother in the 1963 "Spencer's Mountain."

On television, Miss Bronson played a judge on the "Perry Mason" series and the Henry Winkler (Fonzie) character's motorcycle-riding grandmother on "Happy Days."

Among her other films were "The Next Voice You Hear" with her stepson-in-law, actor James Whitmore, "Happy Land," "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," "Walk on the Wild Side," "Fail Safe" and "The Americanization of Emily."

Among Miss Bronson's survivors are a niece, Dorothy Bronson Wicker, stepdaughters Louise Mygatt Klessen and Nancy Mygatt Whitmore, and their children and grandchildren.

Wilson said a public memorial service will be scheduled later this month on Treasure Island in Laguna Beach.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, P.O. Box 86244, Los Angeles, Calif. 90086.

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