Hillary Brooke, the beautiful blond bombshell who appeared in about 50 motion pictures and became Gale Storm’s nemesis in the early television series “My Little Margie” has died. She was 84.
Brooke, the widow of MGM general manager Raymond Klune, died May 25 in Bonsall near Oceanside in northern San Diego County, according to her longtime friend, Helen Lovass.
Born Beatrice Peterson in New York of Swedish ancestry, and tall for her era at 5 feet, 6 inches, young Brooke excelled in swimming, basketball, tennis and gymnastics in high school. She easily became a Powers model, posing primarily for mail order catalogs.
Only casually interested in acting, she spent a year in England, where she performed in a play and picked up a British accent that added panache when she stopped in Hollywood in 1936. She was on her way to Australia, but never made the trip once RKO spotted her and cast her in “New Faces of 1937.”
Brooke honed an image of the beautiful, usually dangerous “other woman” and played it to perfection through comedies, dramas, thrillers, westerns and war films. Never the leading lady, she loved the roles she won and worked with top names in the business.
She was critically praised for her role as Blanche in the 1944 version of “Jane Eyre,” starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. She menaced Ray Milland and Marjorie Reynolds in the 1944 thriller “Ministry of Fear,” set in wartime London, and enticed Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as a Klondike dance hall queen in “Road to Utopia” in 1945. Her personal favorite was “The Enchanted Cottage” in 1945 in which she played Robert Young’s fiancee.
The versatile supporting actress also appeared in the short series of “Big Town” films, modeled on a popular radio show about a big-city newspaper’s war on crime; “Sherlock Holmes Faces Death,” with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce; and in Howard Hughes’ “Vendetta.”
She appeared in such war-based films as “Never Wave at a WAC” and toured Europe during World War II to entertain troops.
Still playing the elegant, exquisite bad girl, Brooke moved into the developing field of TV as the girlfriend of Charles Farrell, Storm’s eligible widowed father, in “My Little Margie” which ran from 1952 to 1955. Brooke, as Roberta Townsend, was a delightful threat to Margie’s schemes.
Although the comely Brooke was often tagged the blond bombshell, she took strong exception to any chauvinist concepts about “dumb blonds.” In 1947, she publicly challenged a psychology professor who theorized that “intelligence can repel a man” and that any actress who demonstrated intelligence would frighten away male fans.
“Vacuity will never substitute for a glint of intelligence,” she retorted. “Anyone, man or woman, who is ostentatiously erudite, is lacking in something else or else is just a crashing bore.”
Among Brooke’s final films were Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” starring James Stewart and Doris Day, and the western “Spoilers of the Forest” in 1957, starring Rod Cameron and Vera Ralston.
After a failed marriage to assistant director Jack Voglin, Brooke married Klune in 1960 and abandoned her own career. Ten years her senior, Klune died in 1988.
Brooke is survived by her son, Donald; her stepdaughter, Carol; brother, Arthur Peterson; six grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at the Bonsall Community Church in Bonsall.