Rhonda Fleming

Tuesday, 7 June 2022  |  Admin

Rhonda Fleming stars in two of Panamint Cinema’s productions, Inferno and Abilene Town.

During production of these titles, I contacted Ms Fleming and she kindly sent notes of the recollections of making the films, which were included in the booklets.

Rhonda Fleming was born in Hollywood and appeared in more than forty films. She earned the soubriquet The Queen of Technicolor as her complexion and flame red hair was made for Technicolor film. Her first substantial rôle was in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1946), followed by thriller The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak, 1946) and the noir classic Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947) also known by the Geoffrey Homes book title Build my Gallows High. Other thrillers and film noir appearances were in Cry Danger (Robert Parrish, 1951) with Dick Powell, While the City Sleeps (Fritz Lang, 1956) with Dana Andrews, and Slightly Scarlet (Allan Dwan, 1956) with Arlene Dahl and John Payne. The first of several westerns came with Abilene Town (Edwin L. Marin, 1946) with Randolph Scott and Ann Dvorak. Later westerns include The Redhead and the Cowboy (Leslie Fenton, 1951) with Glenn Ford, Pony Express (Jerry Hopper, 1953) with Charlton Heston, Gunfight at the OK Corral (John Sturges, 1956) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Bullwhip (Harmon Jones, 1958) with Guy Madison and Alias Jesse James (Norman Z. McLeod, 1959) with Bob Hope.

Miss Fleming's singing talents first came to the screen in her first Technicolor film A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (Tay Garnett, 1949) with Bing Crosby.

Miss Fleming holds the record, with Patricia Medina, for 3D (or "3rd Dimension") appearances with three films to her credit, In addition to Inferno they are Those Redheads from Seattle (Lewis  R. Foster, 1953) with Agnes Moorehead and Gene Barry, and Jivaro (UK title Lost Treasure of the Amazon) (Edward Ludwig, 1954) with Brian Keith and Fernando Lamas.

In addition to motion pictures, Miss Fleming starred in her Broadway debut in Clare Booth Luce's The Women, and in the role of Lalume in Kismet at the Los Angeles Music Center, and toured as Madame Dubonnet with The Boyfriend. She made her stage musical debut in Las Vegas at the opening of the new Tropicana Hotel's showroom. Later, she appeared at the Hollywood Bowl in a one-woman concert of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin compositions. She also starred in a national ten-week concert tour with Skitch Henderson featuring the music of George Gershwin. She has guest-starred on numerous major television shows including Wagon Train, Police Woman, Ellery Queen, Love Boat, a two-hour production, The Last Hours Before Morning, and a two-hour special of McMillan and Wife. The 1990 television production, Waiting For The Wind, reunited her with her former co-star, Robert Mitchum.

Asked about her time shooting the film, Rhonda Fleming wrote:

"Instead of it being ‘hot’ as it appeared in the film, it was quite cold and there was snow around the area where we were filming in the Mojave Desert near Roy Rogers' ranch. I remember wearing summer clothes, riding horses and I came down with pneumonia and was stuck in a bungalow for more than a week while they shot around me. The Technicolor photography was great as were the director, Roy Ward Baker, and the desert photography of cinematographer Lucien Ballard which is stunning – however the sound on the film that I have is not good, therefore I’m looking forward to watching the newly released DVD in August.  I’m so happy that you (Russell) are putting it all together – it’s a wonderful film to watch and I’ve always enjoyed playing this type of ‘not so nice’ roles.  It was a pleasure to be in the film; Robert Ryan did a great job, although I never worked directly with him and when I was ill, they had lots of time to shoot his incredible scenes coming off that huge mountain with a broken leg!!  Bill Lundigan was great to work with and was also in Serpent of the Nile where I played Cleopatra – but in the film Inferno,  I loved the fact that God’s justice was done and we both paid the price for trying to murder my husband." 

Roy Baker says:

"Rhonda was one of three famous redheaded ladies. Susan Hayward was famously disagreeable and Lucille Ball was famously funny. Rhonda was the one I had and she was absolutely delightful. She was inclined to worry about her appearance; some lines on her neck bothered her. I assured her that Lucien Ballard and I would take care of that. In the mean time, let's talk about how we're going to play the scene. 'Oh, you take care of that too' she said. She was thrilled when she heard me call for 'Miss Fleming's feet to be marked'. She explained that over at Paramount where she belonged, somebody just called 'Okay, bring on the girl' when she was wanted on the set."

For our restoration of Abilene Town, Ms Fleming sent these notes:

‘Abilene Town’ was my first film after my debut in 1945 in ‘Spellbound’ which starred Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It was my very first western and a very different role for me than that of ‘Mary Carmichael’ in ‘Spellbound.’

I recall that prior to filming ‘Abilene Town,’ my mother and i drove to a ranch in Agoura Hills, California, which is north of Los Angeles – we’d planned to spend the night in a small trailer up in the mountains so that I could wake up early and prepare for filming the next morning … my mother wanted me to be in the larger bedroom and she stayed in the smaller one and during the night I discovered my bed was on a huge bee nest … I was badly bitten on the face and my mother had to take me to a skin specialist.

I was sure I would not be able to work, but amazingly the doctor gave me a prescription medicine to take one hour before filming and the swelling would disappear … what a miracle – thank the Lord.

Thankfully, everything turned out well and I was able to start filming the next day and on schedule.

It was always a treat to film on location and i enjoyed working in the outdoors - making ‘Abilene Town’ somewhat prepared me for the other western films I went on to make throughout my career.

Although I was a big fan of Randolph Scott, I did not have much interaction with him during filming – likewise, Ann Dvorak was a lovely actress, however, I did not know her well and because she moved to Britain early in her career, our paths never crossed again. Most of my scenes in ‘Abilene Town’ were filmed with Lloyd Bridges, who became a very dear friend. Ironically, many years later, my late husband, Ted Mann, was hospitalized in Los Angeles and while visiting him, I discovered that Lloyd was hospitalized on the same floor – so I was able to visit with him briefly prior to his death.

Rhonda Fleming died on October 14th 2020, aged 97.