Madeleine Carroll, a British actress who became an American citizen and starred in the Alfred Hitchcock thrillers "The 39 Steps" and "Secret Agent" and dozens of other films in the 1930s and 1940s, died Friday in Marbella, a Mediterranean resort in Spain. She was 81.
The actress, who made headlines with four marriages and divorces--one to actor Sterling Hayden and another to Life Magazine publisher Andrew Heiskell--died after a long illness.
A beautiful blonde known for her sophisticated manner and sometimes reserved British style, she appeared in more than 36 films, the last in 1949. She had lived in Marbella for more than 10 years, said her lawyer, Fernando Cruz Conde.
Other Film Credits
Among her many film credits were "The Prisoner of Zenda" in 1937, "Cafe Society" in 1939, "One Night in Lisbon" in 1941 and "My Favorite Blonde" in 1942.
Hollywood gossip columnists often portrayed the university-educated Miss Carroll as "an iceberg," but Edward H. Griffith, who directed Miss Carroll in her first comedy role in "Cafe Society," said in a 1939 interview that he had discovered the former schoolteacher was "afraid of the camera."
Raised by a strict and domineering father, she dreamed of breaking away from her dreary life and got her chance after an amateur theater producer spotted her on the beach in Brighton, England. That led to a job as leading lady of a road company for about $12 a week and shortly thereafter she won a studio search for "the perfect" British girl.
Loaned to Fox Films from her studio in England in 1934, she arrived in Hollywood accompanied by more than two dozen pieces of luggage and promptly declared California "the most beautiful place I've ever seen."
In the late 1930s she lived on Malibu Beach and maintained a villa in Spain, seeing her first husband, Capt. Phillip Astley of London, when she could get away. They were divorced in 1939.
She became active in war relief during World War II, converting her French chateau into an orphanage in 1940 to which she devoted much of her time throughout the war.
Her sister was killed during the German bombing of London, and a few months later, in 1941, Miss Carroll became the first woman in the United States to volunteer for a new Red Cross program that enlisted women as nursing aides.
She received the civilian Medal of Freedom from the United States and was inducted into the French Legion of Honor because of her work overseas during the war.
After her divorce in 1946 from Hayden, Miss Carroll married a French Resistance leader, Henri Lavorel. After a six-year absence from the screen because of her effort in the war, she returned to Hollywood to star in "An Innocent Affair" with Fred MacMurray in 1948.
She was a favorite of Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, who said that Miss Carroll's "soft and appealing femininity conceal a smart and sophisticated brain" and credited the actress with having "the spirit and stomach of a soldier."
Her last marriage was to Heiskell.
A friend, the countess of Llanos, Maria de Salamanca Larisch, said Miss Carroll was recently hospitalized with gallbladder cancer.