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Obituary

Binnie Barnes; Film Actress of '30s and '40s

July 28, 1998|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Binnie Barnes, considered one of the finest and most beautiful character actresses in Hollywood's glamour era of the 1930s and 1940s, has died. She was 95.

Barnes, also known as a major charitable fund-raiser in Hollywood, died over the weekend in Los Angeles, her son, Mike Frankovich Jr., told The Times on Monday.

Appearing in more than 75 motion pictures, Barnes typically portrayed a vitriolic, wisecracking second lead or leading lady. She appeared with such stars as Errol Flynn, Cesar Romero, Louis Jourdan, Randolph Scott and John Wayne.

Born Gitelle Gertrude Maude Barnes in London, she worked as a milkmaid, nurse, chorus girl and dance hostess before breaking into show business billed as "Texas Binnie" with a vaudeville lasso act. She made her British screen debut in 1929, appearing mostly in comedy shorts.

Barnes' major break came four years later when she was cast as Catherine Howard in "The Private Life of Henry VIII," for which Charles Laughton earned an Academy Award.

Success in "Henry" brought Barnes to Hollywood, where dozens of roles followed, including parts in "The Last of the Mohicans" with Scott in 1936 and "In Old California" with Wayne in 1942. Her myriad screen credits won her a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame near Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street.

Barnes earned headlines for heroism in 1936 when, as the only actress present who could swim, she plunged into director William Wyler's pool to save a drowning guest.

After divorcing London art dealer Samuel Joseph, Barnes married Mike Frankovich, a Columbia Pictures production executive and later an independent producer. After World War II, she moved to Europe with Frankovich and appeared in several films he produced there, including "Decameron Nights" with Jourdan and "Fire Over Africa" with Maureen O'Hara and Macdonald Carey.

Barnes produced the Spanish film "Thunderstorm" in 1956. After that, she retired to the background to help Frankovich as an unpaid script reader and advisor and to devote herself to charities and Variety Clubs International.

Occasionally returning to the limelight at the request of friends, Barnes appeared on television's "Donna Reed Show" in the early 1960s and joined longtime colleagues Ida Lupino, Rosalind Russell and Mary Wickes for the 1966 film "The Trouble With Angels" and two sequels.

Her final film was "40 Carats" in 1973, in which she portrayed Liv Ullman's mother. The film was produced by Frankovich.

She only took the role, she told The Times candidly in 1972, to help the family business and because no other actress with a British accent would consent to playing a grandmother.

"Frankly, I've never been mad about acting," she said then. "It just happened to be the only way I could make a living."

Widowed in 1992, Barnes is survived by two sons, Mike Frankovich Jr. and Peter Frankovich; a daughter, Michelle De Motte; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Salvation Army or to the Center for the Partially Sighted in Santa Monica.

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