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Marguerite Chapman; Movie Actress

September 04, 1999|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marguerite Chapman, a small-town secretary and tomboy called "Slugger" who became a model only after friends insisted "you oughta be in pictures," and then went on to act in more than 30 movies, has died. She was 81.

Chapman, who had lived for many years in Woodland Hills, died Tuesday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Never a Hollywood wannabe, Chapman grew up in Chatham, N.Y., with four brothers. She started working as a typist and switchboard operator in White Plains, N.Y. Praised repeatedly for her beauty, she became a John Powers model in New York City. After she had appeared on the covers of enough magazines, studios beckoned her to Los Angeles.

From 1940 to 1943, Chapman appeared in 18 movies, ranging from Charlie Chaplin comedies to armed services booster films as a member of Warner Bros.' singing and dancing Navy Blues Sextet.

"I saw none of them, and you probably didn't either," Times columnist Jerry Mason said dismissively of those early films in 1943. "Her chances of getting up into the A-picture class were--roughly--one in 200. But she made it."

Chapman was cast as the leading lady in "Destroyer" with Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford and in "Assignment in Berlin" opposite George Sanders. Another of her better films was "Counter-Attack" with Paul Muni.

The actress' brothers all served in the armed forces during World War II. Chapman entertained troops, kissed purchasers of large war bonds and helped churn out movies about the war.

She continued to win leading roles after the war in such films as "Relentless" opposite Robert Young and "The Green Promise" with Walter Brennan. By the 1950s, Chapman had slipped into supporting roles, notably as the secretary in "The Seven Year Itch" with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in 1955.

Chapman had top billing again in her final film, "The Amazing Transparent Man" in 1960, but the film was critically panned.

Norma Chapman Dolan of Clinton Corners, N.Y., the actress' niece, said Chapman was asked to try for the role of the elderly survivor won by Gloria Stuart in the 1997 film "Titanic." But by that time, Dolan said, Chapman was too ill.

As her film career waned, she made a few appearances in television series (usually as a blond rather than her natural brunet), including "Richard Diamond, Private Detective," "Rawhide," "Perry Mason," "Hawaii Five-0" and "Marcus Welby, M.D."

In the 1960s she appeared occasionally in small theaters. She also painted and exhibited her work at the Beverly Hills Art League Gallery.

Her acting career is memorialized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Married and divorced from attorney G. Bentley Ryan and director J. Richard Bremerkamp, Chapman is survived by two nieces, Dolan and Patricia Chapman Irwin of Altamont, N.Y.

Funeral services are planned for 9 a.m. today in Our Lady's Chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in North Hollywood.

Memorial donations may be made to the Arthritis Foundation, 785 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, NY 10606.

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