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Phyllis Brooks; Model Acted on Stage, Screen

August 05, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Phyllis Brooks, a model who became a stage and film actress appearing in the Charlie Chan film series and pictures with Shirley Temple including "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," has died. She was 80.

Miss Brooks, the widow of Massachusetts Rep. Torbert H. Macdonald, died Tuesday in her home in Cape Neddick, Me.

Born Phyllis Steiller in Boise, Ida., Miss Brooks started out as a commercial model in New York. She attracted Hollywood's attention in 1934 as the "Ipana toothpaste girl."

She was cast most often in leading roles in low-budget films, but was also a supporting actress in some major pictures including Temple's 1938 features "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and "Little Miss Broadway."

Briefly known in films as Mary Brooks, the blond actress first appeared in "I've Been Around" in 1934. Her other films included "To Beat the Band," "Dangerously Yours," "No Place for a Lady" and her last, "Dangerous Passage" in 1945.

She also appeared as an ingenue on Broadway in "Stage Door" in 1936 and with Ethel Merman in "Panama Hattie" in 1940.

In 1938 and 1939 Miss Brooks was engaged to Hollywood heartthrob Cary Grant. But in 1945 she married Macdonald, a World War II hero and Harvard football captain who had been John F. Kennedy's college roommate.

During World War II, Miss Brooks was one of the first women to entertain troops in the South Pacific. With actor Gary Cooper, she starred in a USO troupe that traveled 35,000 miles over three months, later describing the tour as one of the greatest experiences of her life.

"The greeting we got is something we'll never forget as long as we live," she told The Times in 1943.

Decades before any protests about sex discrimination or exploitation of women, the model and actress campaigned for the distribution of pinup photos to fighting men despite wartime shortages of paper.

"First comes mail, then movies and then leg art," she described troops' off-duty concerns. "The boys aren't interested in seeing a girl's knuckles, or a copy of something dashed off by Salvador Dali. They want good pictures of pretty girls."

During her husband's tenure in Congress from 1954 until his death in 1976, Miss Brooks was a dedicated hostess for political events. She promoted his campaigns and those of Kennedy, although she declined to move to Washington.

Miss Brooks is survived by two sons, Torbert Jr. and Brian; two daughters, Laurie and Robin; a brother, Norman, and eight grandchildren.

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