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Obituaries

Lucille Lund, 89; Actress in Cult Horror Movie

February 21, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lucille Lund, who achieved minor cult status for her dual roles in "The Black Cat," a 1934 horror classic that paired Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first time, has died. She was 89.

Lund, who signed with Universal in 1933 after winning the studio's nationwide beauty and talent contest, died of natural causes Saturday in Torrance. She lived in Palos Verdes Estates.

Lund's short-lived Hollywood career--about 30 films between 1933 and 1939--was not much different than that of many young actresses of the time: a mix of largely forgettable crime dramas, westerns, serials and Three Stooges and Charley Chase comedy shorts.

But her role in "The Black Cat" gave her Hollywood career an unexpected afterlife among a later generation of horror film fans.

Lund played the doomed Karen, who is first seen under the satin sheets of a satanic high priest played by Karloff, who is not only her bridegroom in the film but her stepfather.

With her long, flowing blond hair and black negligee trailing to the floor, "she looks like Rapunzel after a shopping spree at Frederick's of Hollywood," Gregory William Mank wrote in his 1999 book "Women in Horror Films, 1930s."

Lund's character winds up being slain by Karloff in the 65-minute melodrama, "doomed to his 'embalming rack,'" Mank wrote.

Lund also plays her character's mummified dead mother, hanging by her blond hair in a vertical glass coffin, which provided Lund with her own on-set horror.

The only way she could get out of the coffin was if someone lifted her out, and while the scene was being shot, the director called for a lunch break--and left her hanging for an hour.

"I couldn't get out," Lund told Mank. "I couldn't do anything. Everybody thought somebody else was going to get me out, but nobody took me out."

Born in Buckley, Wash., to Norwegian immigrant parents, Lund began her theatrical career as a child, playing in stock with the Henry Duffy Players in Seattle.

While studying drama at Northwestern University, someone suggested she send her picture to a beauty and talent contest sponsored by Universal Studios. She won "The All-American Girl" contest, beating out 1,200 other contestants, and took the train to Hollywood.

She made her film debut in "Saturday's Millions," a 1933 Universal football saga starring Robert Young, followed by "Horseplay," a slapstick comedy starring Slim Summerville.

In 1934, she played the heroine in a 12-chapter cliffhanger called "Pirate Treasure" and appeared in four other films.

In 1937, Lund married radio producer-writer Kenneth Higgins and, after the birth of her two daughters, quit the business in 1939.

Although she made some television commercials in her 50s, she remained out of the spotlight until the early 1990s, when she was invited to be a guest at the Memphis Film Festival. Invitations to other festivals followed.

Still vivacious in her 80s, an amused Lund thanked a ballroom full of film fans in 1995 for their ovation.

"I really think the reason you all remember me," she said with a smile, "is because I went to bed with Boris Karloff."

She is survived by her daughters, Terry Helmy of Torrance and Kim Lund Rosenfield of Palos Verdes Estates; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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