Character Actress Lurene Tuttle, 78, Dies

Times Staff Writer

Lurene Tuttle, a character actress and drama coach whose six-decade career included every dramatic medium from stage to radio to films and television, died Wednesday at Encino Hospital after a brief illness. She was 78 and had been active in her career until her death.

“Lurene was always working--acting and coaching. She was supposed to start another movie June 6,” her agent, Georgia Gilly, said. “She was feeling ill Wednesday, called her doctor, was admitted to the hospital, and died a few hours later. It was sudden; no long buildup. Just the way she’d have wanted it.”

She leaves a granddaughter, Jennifer Gruska; two grandsons, Mark and Joseph Williams, and a great-granddaughter, Barbara Gruska. Memorial services are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Monday in the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.


Versatile and professional, Miss Tuttle was known as a gifted dialectician and portrayer of such diverse characters as Sam Spade’s secretary-girlfriend Effie Perrine, The Great Gildersleeve’s teen-age niece, and gangster queen Ma Barker.

But she was even better known as an actress who could, in an emergency, pick up a role at a moment’s notice “and make you think she’d spent the last two months rehearsing,” said producer-director Evan King. “She made it look easy--and it’s not. She was the Rock of Gibraltar.”

Born Aug. 29, 1907, at Pleasant Lake, Ind., she came from a theatrical tradition: Her father, O.V. Tuttle was a former minstrel man who turned railroad station agent when minstrel shows fell on hard times. And her grandfather, Frank Tuttle, had taught drama and managed an opera house in Angola, Ind.

She received her first theatrical training when her family moved to Glendale, Ariz., and she came into contact with drama coach Mrs. Dwight Easley who, she said, “made me aware of life as it really is--by making me study life in real situations.”

It was a technique she would later impart to her own students.

When she was 15, her family moved to Monrovia, where she had the lead in a school play--and captured the interest of Pasadena Playhouse chief Gilmor Brown. With his help, she received professional training at the Playhouse, and appeared in many productions there before beginning her professional career.

In 1936, she began her radio career opposite Dick Powell in the CBS series “Hollywood Hotel.” Within a year, she was “working any time I wasn’t sleeping,” with roles in anthologies and running parts in such radio staples as “Sam Spade,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “A Date With Judy,” and “The Red Skelton Show.”

Her film debut was in “Heaven Only Knows” in 1947. Her career continued with featured roles in Orson Welles’ “Macbeth,” and with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy in “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” Other films included “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe, “The Glass Slipper,” “The Sweet Smell of Success,” “Psycho,” “The Fortune Cookie,” “Walking Tall” and “The Manitou.”

Television roles included the lead opposite Leon Ames in “Life With Father,” the mother in “Father Of The Bride,” and the starchy head nurse of “Julia” with Lloyd Nolan and Diahann Carroll. She most recently appeared in a segment of “Crazy Like A Fox.”

She was the first woman president of the Hollywood local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and was voted “Woman of the Year” by AFTRA and the Pasadena Playhouse. She held the Diamond Circle of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters.