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Pauline Moore, 87; Actress Made 25 B Movies in 1930s, Early ‘40s

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pauline Moore, a scary psychic in “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island,” Abraham Lincoln’s ill-fated true love Ann Rutledge in “The Young Mr. Lincoln,” and Shirley Temple’s schoolmarm in “Heidi,” has died. She was 87.

Moore, a lauded B-movie actress who made 25 films in the 1930s and early 1940s before moving on to a quieter life in devotional dramas, died Friday at a nursing home in Sequim, Wash. The cause, according to her son, Tom Machamer, was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“I was the girl who was always being discovered by the press,” Moore told the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Tenn., in 1990 when some of her work was shown at the Memphis Film Festival. “ ‘Watch this girl!’ a reviewer would say, and then forget to. The trouble was, if you were any good at all at doing B movies, then the more B movies you did.”

She was that good.

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Moore, born in Harrisburg, Pa., took an early step toward a career before the footlights and klieg lights as a teenager when she became a finalist in the National Constitution Oratorical Contest in Washington. She toured in a theater stock company and found success on the New York stage, appearing in such shows as Florenz Ziegfeld’s final production, “Ha Cha.”

She also scored in Broadway’s “Murder at the Vanities” and “Dance with Your Gods.”

In the early 1930s, Moore’s beautiful, classic face appeared on several magazine covers, including Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and McCall’s. She also posed for advertising photographs, including the “Hostess Girl” painting on a metal 1934 Coca-Cola tray that has become a collectible.

When Hollywood talent scouts saw Moore on Broadway they invited her west for screen tests. First she signed on with Universal, where she did little, finally appearing as a bridesmaid in the 1931 “Frankenstein.”

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Later she won a contract at 20th Century Fox and purposely neglected to tell the studio a few things about her private life--that she was married, a mother and pregnant.

“That wasn’t done . . . so I kept it a secret at first,” she said in 1990. “In ‘Heidi’ with Shirley Temple, I played a schoolteacher. I almost didn’t make it. When I got married [in the film] at the end, I was afraid it was going to look like a shotgun wedding.”

Moore made numerous films at Fox, but none to put her on the A list. Roles in three Charlie Chan outings--"Charlie Chan at the Olympics,” “Charlie Chan in Reno” and “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island"--made her a durable favorite with Chan cultists. And she sang as Lady Constance in the unusual musical version of “The Three Musketeers” in 1939 starring Don Ameche as D’Artagnan and the Ritz Brothers as comedic Musketeers.

When Moore landed her role in the 1939 “Young Mr. Lincoln” opposite Henry Fonda, with John Ford directing, she thought her big chance had arrived. Then she looked at the script and realized Lincoln’s true love died in one short scene at the beginning of the film.

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“I thought I’d have conversations with Mr. Ford,” she said years later. “He came up to me one day . . . and asked: ‘Do you know your lines?’ Another time he said I should take off my lipstick. That was it.”

After her work at Fox, Moore moved to Republic Studios to ride the range with Roy Rogers in five of his films, including “Days of Jesse James” in 1939, and “Colorado” and “Young Buffalo Bill,” both in 1940.

She also is remembered as Miss Sally in the 12-episode 1941 movie serial “King of the Texas Rangers” opposite “Slingin’ Sammy” Baugh.

Moore was married from 1934 until his death in 1960 to artist and cartoonist Jefferson Machamer, and in the early 1940s left Hollywood for Santa Monica to rear their three children. In the 1950s, she appeared sporadically on television in commercials and such dramatic series as “Studio 57,” “Death Valley Days” and “Four-Star Playhouse.”

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The actress also wrote and in 1936 published a volume of poetry. Later, during her years as a homemaker, she turned her religious devotion toward inspirational poetry, short stories and plays.

She frequently spoke before church and social groups and performed Christian-themed monologues. Among those were “The Seamless Robe” about a woman who was healed and inspired by touching Jesus’ robe and “Mary’s Story.”

Moore served for many years on the board of the Santa Monica YWCA and was active in Community Chest.

Widowed again by the death of her second husband, Dodd Watkins, in 1972, Moore is survived by a son, Tom Machamer of Sequim, Wash.; two daughters, Laurie Shreeve of Vancouver, Wash., and Wendy Geagan of Laurel, Md.; six grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

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