An alluring blonde with a husky, come-hither voice, Lizabeth Scott was a leading lady of film noir during the genre's peak years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but scandal drove her from the public eye after only a few years on screen. Promoted by Paramount as a femme fatale in the Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake mold, her career never matched theirs in regard to role or project, but she proved herself to be a capable scene-stealer and eye-pleasing presence in thrillers like "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers" (1947), "The Racket" (1951) and "Dark City" (1950). Tabloid allegations left her star tarnished in the mid-1950s, and she vanished from the screen for the next half-century, save for an appearance in 1972's "Pulp." Though largely forgotten by the general public, her steamy presence made her a favorite among armchair detectives and other fans of classic film noir. Her death on January 31, 2015 at the age of 92 was mourned by fans of the style around the world.
Born Emma Matzo to Slovakian parents in Scranton, PA on Sept. 29, 1922, Scott attended Marywood College before relocating to New York City and attending the Alvienne School of Drama. Scott had various runs in stock theater and paid bills with modeling gigs; her first real break came along in 1942 when she served as understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway stage production of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth." When Bankhead was replaced by Miriam Hopkins, Scott quit the production and returned to modeling. But when Hopkins' replacement, Gladys George fell ill, she was called back to the show and earned rave reviews. Billed initially as "Elizabeth," she dropped the "e" to, in her own words, "be different," and legally changed her name at the Los Angeles courthouse in 1949.
A chance encounter at the Stork Club with producer Hal Wallis led to an interview about film work, but she was forced to cancel the face-to-face when she received an offer to head the Boston production of the Wilder play. Wallis and Scott were to cross paths again soon, however, when the producer's attention was drawn to a Harper's Bazaar photo spread featuring Scott. Intrigued by her sensuous image, Wallis arranged a screen test, which reportedly went poorly. But Wallis recognized her potential as competition for such dangerous screen blondes as Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake, and added her to the Paramount stable.
Her first movie was the rather forgettable "You Came Along" (1945) as an escort girl in love with a terminally ill G.I. It was not a spectacular debut, but a solid one. The strength of her performance led Wallis to cast her in the perverse noir "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers" (1946). Playing opposite Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas, Scott dominated her few scenes as a recent parolee who falls in with wronged drifter Van Heflin A critical and financial success, "Martha Ivers" saw Scott poised to join the pantheon of classic noir anti-heroines, and led to a string of mysteries and thrillers in that genre - some 20 in all, and reportedly more than any other leading actress in the 1940s and 1950s. Paramount, for their part, played up her connection to the dark side by billing her as "The Threat" in their publicity.
The comparison to Lauren Bacall came full circle with her next picture, "Dead Reckoning" (1947), for which she shared equal billing with the actress's husband, Humphrey Bogart. The film solidified Scott's screen persona as a carnivorous long-haired blonde with murder on her mind. In "Reckoning," she was the deadly treasure at the end of a trail that led Bogart's Army paratrooper through clues that explained the murder of his friend. It was quickly followed by "Desert Fury" (1947), a noir anomaly that was filmed in Technicolor, and "I Walk Alone" (1948), which saw her as the prize given by double-dealing bootlegger Kirk Douglas to his wronged pal Burt Lancaster.
Scott earned her first leading role with "Too Late for Tears" (1949), in which her conniving wife - one of the most cold-blooded figures in late-period noir - murders her own husband to prevent him from turning in a stolen fortune, but runs afoul of a besotted private eye (Dan Duryea) and her spouse's family. The following year, Charlton Heston - making his feature film debut - tangled with Scott in "Dark City," a gritty revenge thriller with a crackerjack cast that included Ed Begley, Sr., Jack Webb, and Dean Jagger. The film was probably her last quality project - after that, she was largely relegated to window dressing in crime films like "The Racket" (1951) with Robert Mitchum, or "Two of a Kind" (1951) with Edmond O'Brien. She soon drifted into B movie territory, though the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy "Scared Stiff" (1953) - a remake of the Bob Hope feature "The Ghost Breakers" (1940) for producer Wallis - offered a brief return to major studio work.
Rumors had abounded for years that Wallis and Scott would marry, but these were soon drowned out by growing clamor over the suspicion that Scott was gay. Such was the tabloid scrutiny of her personal life that she was compelled to sue the tabloid Confidential over their story to that effect. The publicity fallout over the court case was devastating to Scott's career; she was dropped from Wallis' stable, and her movie career came to an end with an unremarkable turn as a publicist to Elvis Presley's hot-tempered rock 'n' roller in "Loving You" (1957).
She did continue with TV appearances on the respected "Studio 57" (DuMont, 1954-57) and "The 20th Century Fox Hour" (CBS, 1955-57), but movie career throughout the Fifties came to a halt after the Elvis pairing. She made a few desultory TV appearances in the Sixties before returning to the big screen for one final role in the Mike Hodges film "Pulp" (1972), which paid quirky tribute to the noir and detective films that had made Scott a star. In the years hence, Scott - who also lent her dusky tones to a series of cat food commercials - led an intensely private life, largely refusing numerous interview requests, although one conversation in 2008 earned newsprint space when the 86-year-old former actress lashed out at the sartorial style of current "stars" like Kate Moss and Paris Hilton. Lizabeth Scott died of congestive heart failure at the age of 92 in Los Angeles on January 31, 2015.
Cast (Feature Film)
First break, understudied Tallulah Bankhead as Sabina in Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth"
Made screen debut in "You Came Along"
Co-starred with Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas in "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers"
Appeared opposite Humphrey Bogart in "Dead Reckoning"
Landed one of best screen roles opposite Victor Mature in "Easy Living"
Successfully sued Confidential magazine over allegations about her sexual orientation
Last film for 15 years "Loving You," starring Elvis Presley
Received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame
Made one-shot return to films in "Pulp," starring Michael Caine
Appeared on stage at American Film Institute tribute to Hal Wallis