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Obituaries

Victoria H. Oakie, 91; Gave Up Acting Career for Film Comic Husband

October 17, 2003|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Victoria Horne Oakie, a former character actress and the widow of film comedian Jack Oakie who devoted the last 25 years to keeping his name alive, has died. She was 91.

Oakie died last Friday of natural causes in a Beverly Hills retirement home, said publicist Dale Olson, a longtime friend.

As Victoria Horne, she appeared in more than 40 films released between 1944 and 1953, including "Harvey," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "Forever Amber" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer." She also costarred in two film serials, "The Scarlet Horseman" and the cult classic "Secret Agent X-9."

In 1952, she quit acting to spend more time with her husband, who had costarred in scores of films opposite everyone from Clark Gable to Shirley Temple -- and, most memorably, Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator," in which Oakie spoofed Italy's Benito Mussolini.

Jack Oakie died in 1978 at age 74.

Since then, Olson told The Times on Wednesday, Victoria Horne Oakie had spent her time burnishing her husband's memory.

She established the Jackie Oakie Comedy Lectures at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

She donated her husband's show business memorabilia to the University of Wyoming, which until a couple of years ago housed the material in the Jack Oakie Room, a re-creation of the actor's den.

She organized Jack Oakie film tributes at movie festivals and film organization events, and she donated acting scholarships in his name to USC and the University of Wyoming.

She also wrote four published books about her husband and their life together, including "Jack Oakie's Oakridge," about their sprawling Northridge estate. The Paul Williams-designed English Tudor mansion had been the honeymoon home of Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck and, according to Olson, the Oakies "entertained virtually every major star and industry figure in Hollywood at their weekly Sunday afternoon salons."

Her last book, "Life With Jack Oakie," was published in 2001. And within the past year, Oakie had donated her Northridge estate to USC, whose School of Cinema-Television will establish the Victoria and Jack Oakie Endowed Chair in Comedy.

"It's the first comedy chair that's ever been set in any university in the country, probably the world," said Olson, chairman of a Nov. 9 gala to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Jack Oakie's birth and announce the new USC chair. The event, according to Marlene Loadvine, associate dean of USC's School of Cinema-Television, will now also be a tribute to Victoria Oakie.

Oakie was born in New York City and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After spending a season at Stratford-on-Avon in England, she returned to the United States to appear in Leslie Howard's production of "Hamlet."

She came to Hollywood to appear onstage in "Life With Father," starring Dorothy Gish and Louis Calhern, and it was Calhern who introduced her to her husband.

Oakie had no immediate survivors. At her request, no services will be held.

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