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From the Archives: Lizabeth Scott dies at 92; sultry leading woman of film noir

Lizabeth Scott, noted film noir actress of 1940s and '50s, dies at 92

Actress Lizabeth Scott, whose sultry looks and smoky voice led many a man astray in 1940s and '50s film noir, died Jan. 31 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 92.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said her longtime friend Mary Goodstein.

Scott aspired to be a stage actress but was stereotyped as the femme fatale in the hard-boiled, film noir world of crime, tough talk and dark secrets.

"She had the smoldering look, the blond hair, the voice," Alan Rode, a film historian who produces annual film noir festivals, said Friday. "She was someone you would see in a nightclub through a haze of cigarette smoke, with a voice made husky by a couple of highballs and an unfiltered Pall Mall."

Scott starred in numerous films in the genre, mostly as the bad girl — or in a variation, the good girl gone bad — with evocative titles such as "Dead Reckoning," "I Walk Alone," "Pitfall" and "Too Late for Tears."

She inspired lines such as "What a fall guy I am, thinking just because you're good to look at you'd be good all the way through." Burt Lancaster said that to her in the 1948 drama "I Walk Alone," which also starred Kirk Douglas.

But her characters could snap back too. "Who said I was an honest citizen, and where would it get me if I was?" she asked Robert Mitchum in "The Racket" (1951).

And she described herself to Dick Powell in the 1948 film "Pitfall" as "a girl whose first engagement ring was bought by a man stupid enough to embezzle and stupid enough to get caught."

She also played opposite Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin.

In a 1996 interview with documentary filmmaker Carole Langer, Scott said she didn't lament the fact that she wasn't cast in studio blockbusters. She liked the grittiness of film noir.

"The films that I had seen growing up were always, boy meets girl, boy ends up marrying girl, they go off into the sunset," Scott said. After the war, films got more in touch with "the psychological, emotional things that people feel and people do."

"It was a new realm, and it was very exciting, because suddenly you were coming closer and closer to reality."

She was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa., where her father had a grocery store. In her late teens, she left to study acting in New York, landing a role in a touring company of the hit stage comedy "Hellzapoppin'." In 1942, she got a small part in the original Broadway production of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth."

Scott also understudied the lead role, and then got to play it in Boston, turning down interest from Hollywood to further her stage career. At that point, her stage name was Elizabeth Scott — she later removed the "E" to be more distinctive.

When she finally came west, she was signed by prominent producer Hal Wallis.

After several years of making one film noir after another — sometimes at a pace of two or three in a year — Scott was ready for a change. She got it in the 1953 comedy "Scared Stiff," starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

"I'd done so many heavy things that it was such a pleasure when this was offered me," she said in the Langer interview. "I thought, 'God, I'd like to shed my past and have some fun with these guys.' "

There were other varied roles — Scott played a publicity woman in the 1957 Elvis Presley vehicle "Loving You."

But as noir faded, so did her career. She had a few TV roles in the 1960s. Her last credited movie appearance was in "Pulp," a 1972 sendup of film noir.

Scott lived quietly in Hollywood, sometimes accepting invitations to attend film festivals and other events.

"I loved making films," she said in the Langer interview. "There was something about that lens that I adored, and it adored me back. So we were a great combination."

Scott's survivors include her brother Gus Matzo of Plymouth, Mich.; and sister Justine Birdsall of Middletown, N.Y.

Twitter @davidcolker

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


In the Feb. 8 California section, the obituary of actress Lizabeth Scott included a portion of a quote from another article that was inserted during final production. The correct quote, from a 1996 interview of Scott about her work in film noir, should have read: "It was a new realm, and it was very exciting, because suddenly you were coming closer and closer to reality."