Janice Rule, 72; Broadway Dancer, ‘Picnic’ Actress Also Was in Films

Times Staff Writer

Janice Rule, a dancer-turned-actress who appeared in Broadway plays, movies and as a guest star on popular television series through the 1950s and ‘60s, has died. She was 72.

She had been in frail health for some time and suffered a brain hemorrhage Friday at her home in New York City, said a friend, Gilbert Ireland.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 25, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 25, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Rule obituary -- In an obituary of actress Janice Rule in Friday’s California section, it was stated that Rule married screenwriter Robert Thom, whom she met while filming “The Subterraneans” in 1960. Actually, the couple married in the mid-1950s.

Rule began her career as a nightclub dancer and moved to the Broadway stage to dance in “Miss Liberty” in 1949. Four years later, she made her acting debut on Broadway in the original production of “Picnic” by William Inge. For most of her film career, she appeared in B movies, with several notable exceptions, including “The Chase,” starring Marlon Brando (1966) and “The Swimmer,” starring Burt Lancaster (1968).

Early in her career, she gave up one role -- opposite Brando in “On the Waterfront” (1954) -- a decision she would be asked to explain for the rest of her career. Eva Marie Saint accepted the offer and won an Oscar for her performance. “I knew I couldn’t shoot in a movie all day and work on a stage at night and do my best in both,” Rule explained to Hedda Hopper, the Hollywood columnist for the Los Angeles Times, in 1966. Rule was appearing in “Picnic” when the offer was made.


Rule was disenchanted with the movie business from the start, saying the theater “demands more of you.” She also struggled against the Hollywood studio system.

“She considered herself a serious actress and didn’t want to be treated like a starlet, a sex symbol,” said Hollywood publicist Dale Olson, who first met Rule in the early 1950s. “But when she came to Hollywood, at the end of the halcyon days of the big studios, appearance and beauty were the most important thing for an actress, or an actor.”

Rule said she once lost a studio contract because she was careless about the way she dressed. At the time, actresses under contract were expected to appear in public only after the studio wardrobe and makeup artists had outfitted them as if they were appearing in a movie.

“Because I was afraid of being robbed of my individuality, I fought with the makeup people, the hairdressers, and I didn’t understand problems of the publicity department,” Rule said in a 1957 interview. Eventually, she said, she learned to choose her battles.


She told friends that she was most comfortable in such offbeat movies as Robert Altman’s “3 Women” (1977).

Auburn-haired with a dancer’s figure, Rule was born in Cincinnati and dreamed of a Broadway acting career. One of six children, she had a brother, Charles, who appeared in a number of Broadway musicals, including “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1964.

Rule married three times, first to playwright N. Richard Nash, who wrote “The Rainmaker,” a 1954 Broadway play that was later made into “110 in the Shade,” a musical. Her second, brief marriage was to screenwriter Robert Thom, whom she met while filming “The Subterraneans” (1960). Her third and longest marriage was to actor and director Ben Gazzara, whom she married in 1961 and divorced in 1979.

Rule had one daughter with Thom and one daughter with Gazzara. Both daughters survive her. She also is survived by three sisters and a brother.


Rule kept up her acting career into the 1980s, appearing as a guest performer on such television series as “Dr. Kildare” and “Ben Casey” in the early 1960s and “Murder She Wrote” in the 1980s.

For some years, she also studied psychoanalysis and earned a doctorate in 1983 from the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute. She had a private practice in New York City.