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Obituaries

Hope Lange, 70; Drew an Oscar Nomination for 'Peyton Place'

December 22, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Hope Lange, who earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in the 1957 film "Peyton Place" and won two Emmys for her charming turn as Carolyn Muir on the popular television series "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," has died, her husband said Sunday. She was 70.

Lange died Friday at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica after suffering an infection caused by an intestinal inflammation known as ischemic colitis, said her husband, theatrical producer Charles Hollerith.

Lange, whose last major acting role was in 1994, when she appeared in "Clear and Present Danger," split her time between homes in Westwood and New York City.

The risque "Peyton Place" in 1957 was only her third film, but Lange received second billing to star Lana Turner and earned the only Academy Award nomination of her career. Lange portrayed an incest victim who murdered her rapist father in one of the most dramatic roles ever offered to the actress, who was perhaps more valued in 1950s Hollywood for her beauty than for her considerable acting ability.

"It was a great role and a great opportunity," Lange said in 1998 when she returned to where the film was shot in Belfast-Camden, Maine, for the 40th anniversary of the production.

She went on to play Montgomery Clift's love interest in "The Young Lions" in 1958 and appeared with Joan Crawford in "The Best of Everything" in 1959 and opposite Elvis Presley in "Wild in the Country" in 1961.

Actor Don Murray, who was married to Lange from 1956, when they met in her debut film, "Bus Stop," until 1961, said Lange "was considered a great beauty who was also a serious and dedicated actor who didn't pay attention to being glamorous."

Murray said her looks even intimidated Marilyn Monroe, the "Bus Stop" star, who wanted Lange's naturally blond hair dyed light brown, complaining about sharing the screen with another blond.

Born Hope Elise Ross Lange in Redding Ridge, Conn., Lange grew up in show business as the daughter of a musician father and actress mother. She made her Broadway debut at age 12 in Sidney Kingsley's Pulitzer Prize-winning play "The Patriots."

She went on to roles in early live television drama programs, including "Playhouse 90" and "Kraft Television Theatre." Film producer Buddy Adler saw her in Kraft's "Snap Finger Creek" in 1956, and brought her to Hollywood to portray the waitress Emma in his film adaptation of "Bus Stop."

In the 1960s, Lange returned to television with the series "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," which ran from 1968 to 1970, playing opposite Edward Mulhare.

From 1971 to 1974, she played the charming wife of Dick Van Dyke, Jenny Preston, in "The New Dick Van Dyke Show." The show was canceled after Lange refused to sign for a fourth season -- irked that CBS had initially balked at showing an episode implying that the Prestons were having sex in their bedroom.

"They won't air the best show we did all season," she said. "If a happily married couple can't make love ... they have three children, for Pete's sake! Was that by immaculate conception?"

In 1974, Lange portrayed Charles Bronson's wife, who was raped and murdered, in the motion picture "Death Wish." More than a decade later, in 1986, she played Laura Dern's mother in "Blue Velvet."

The actress occasionally returned to the stage, including for "Same Time, Next Year" on Broadway in 1977 and "The Best Man" at the Ahmanson Theatre in 1987.

But the star's roles had become smaller in recent years, and even those roles were fewer and farther between. In 1993, she had a small part as a college student's mother in the four-hour NBC miniseries "Message from Nam."

"If you blink, you miss me," she joked to a reporter shortly before the miniseries aired.

"Work is hard to find for a woman my age. There just isn't much around. You start to feel like a brontosaurus, not in your personal life, but professionally.... You walk into meetings and all the producers and writers are in their 20s. They're not writing roles for women my age. It never occurs to them."

But Lange seemed secure in her personal life, telling the same reporter: "Fortunately, I don't feel validated just when I work. For me, if I never worked again, it wouldn't matter all that much."

After her divorce from Murray, Lange was married to director and producer Alan J. Pakula from 1963 to 1971.

She is survived by her husband Hollerith, whom she married in 1986; a son, actor Christopher Murray; a daughter, Patricia Murray; and two grandchildren.

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