Dorothy Jordan, Dancer and Film Actress in ‘30s

Times Staff Writer

Dorothy Jordan, who danced with Fred Astaire, acted with Ramon Novarro and married the creator of “King Kong,” has died at a Los Angeles hospital.

Miss Jordan, who ostensibly retired from films in the early 1930s after marrying Merian C. Cooper, was 82 when she died Dec. 7 of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Born in Clarksville, Tenn., to descendants of an old Virginia family, she attended Southwestern University and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

She studied ballet and landed small parts in such Broadway musicals as “Garrick Gaieties” and “Twinkle Twinkle.” At a time in the late 1920s when Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele, were considered America’s premier dance team, Miss Jordan worked as Adele Astaire’s understudy in “Funny Face.” An old friend, the actress Ona Munson, encouraged Miss Jordan to come to Hollywood at the dawn of talking pictures when musicals became immediately popular.


Here she was cast in “In Gay Madrid,” a 1930 talkie opposite Novarro, the star of “Ben-Hur.”

Her other early credits included “Min and Bill,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Young Sinners,” and “Hell Divers” with Clark Gable.

In 1932 she appeared opposite Joel McCrea in “The Lost Squadron” and it was McCrea who introduced her to Cooper, a dashing Army general who flew in World War I, and served in Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration in 1919. Between wars he produced such films as “Flying Down to Rio” (in which Astaire and Ginger Rogers were teamed for the first time) and shared writing, producing and directing credits on “King Kong.”

After her marriage she made a few more films, including the much-acclaimed “Bondage” in 1933 in which she played a store clerk seduced by a glamorous radio singer.


She retired to start a family but emerged briefly in the 1950s to appear in character roles in such John Ford films of that era as “The Sun Shines Bright,” “The Searchers” and “The Wings of Eagles.” Ford was an old family friend.

Miss Jordan was interviewed by Richard Lamparski for his series of “Whatever Became of. . . ?” books in the mid-1970s but did not discuss her career with any real interest, he wrote.

“Even before I married, the long hours of movie-making had begun to wear on me,” she told him. “I realized then that I didn’t have the driving ambition it takes to be a star. . . . And I just love being a grandmother.”

She was widowed in 1973 and is survived by a son, two daughters and a grandchild.