Constance Moore, the glamorous singer-actress who co-starred in a string of World War II-era movie musicals and gained cult-film status as Buster Crabbe’s co-star in the 1939 “Buck Rogers” serial, has died. She was 84.
Moore, who also appeared in a hit Broadway musical in the early ‘40s, died Friday of heart failure at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills after a long illness, said her son, Michael Maschio.
Moore was a band vocalist on a Dallas radio show before being discovered by a Universal Studios talent scout. She arrived in Hollywood as a teenager in 1937 and subsequently appeared in comedies, dramas, westerns and musicals.
Among her more than 40 film credits are the movie musicals “Delightfully Yours” with Jane Powell, “Show Business” with Eddie Cantor and George Murphy, “Earl Carroll Vanities” with Dennis O’Keefe and “Hit Parade of 1947" with Eddie Albert.
She also appeared with Ray Milland and William Holden in the wartime drama “I Wanted Wings,” co-starred with Bill Elliott in the western “In Old Sacramento” and supported Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray in the comedy “Take a Letter, Darling.”
On television two decades later, she co-starred with Robert Young in the short-lived “Window on Main Street,” a 1961-62 situation comedy.
But Moore may be best remembered for playing the daughter of W.C. Fields’ Larson E. Whipsnade in the classic 1939 comedy “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” and Wilma Deering in “Buck Rogers,” the 1939 science-fiction serial based on the popular comic strip.
Of her role in “Buck Rogers,” Moore told Filmfax Magazine a few years ago: “I remember being amazed at the special effects. And, thinking about them now amazes me even more. As Wilma Deering, I wore a space belt and a disintegrator pistol -- things that are pretty much becoming a part of reality today. It’s frightening.”
As for working on “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man,” Moore recalled in the same interview that during cast meetings on the set each morning, ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, her love interest in the movie, would launch into a routine with his famous dummy, Charlie McCarthy, who had a chair with his name on it. Finally, Moore recalled, Fields barked, “That’s enough! Get off the set.”
But “what made it so funny -- and so ridiculous -- was that he was speaking to Charlie McCarthy, and not to Bergen!” she said.
Taking time out from her film career during World War II, Moore played the romantic lead in the Rodgers and Hart Broadway 1942 hit “By Jupiter,” starring Ray Bolger.
Said the New York World-Telegram of Moore’s performance: “Nothing so gorgeous has been seen on a Broadway stage for a couple of wars. She’s a Texan socialite who soared high and fast in Hollywood due to her unique possession of Grade A singing and acting ability as well as her obvious, radiating allure.”
Longtime friend Marvin Paige, a Hollywood casting director and archivist, told The Times on Wednesday that Moore “was kind of the essence of what Hollywood was.”
“She had glamour, style and talent and she was a wonderful hostess,” he said.
Born Mary Constance Moore in Sioux City, Iowa, Moore grew up in Dallas, where she studied voice and dreamed of becoming an opera singer.
That changed after her godfather, the owner of a chain of Dallas drugstores, sponsored a radio show on the local CBS affiliate to showcase Moore’s impressive contralto. While still in high school, Moore became the featured singer on “The Early Bird’s Program,” on which she sang popular songs of the day.
The Universal talent scout heard her sing on a CBS program and signed her to a contract without the requisite screen test.
“She was a big shining star,” Moore’s sister, Shirley Rastatter, told The Times on Wednesday. “She was so gorgeous. She was not only a beauty but probably the loveliest person I have known, just an absolute dream.”
During her Hollywood heyday in the ‘40s, Moore headlined as a singer at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles and in Las Vegas.
She also appeared in stage productions, including “Annie Get Your Gun,” around the country. And she made occasional TV appearances, including a stint on the soap opera “The Young Marrieds,” before retiring in the late 1960s.
In 1939, Moore married John Maschio, a Hollywood talent agent. The marriage lasted until his death in 1998.
“They were blissfully happy together,” said Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, a friend who interviewed Moore at the annual Cinecon film festival some years ago.
As Moore signed autographs and chatted with fans after the interview, Kreuger recalled, he went into the audience to talk to Maschio.
“He was beaming like a newlywed,” Kreuger said, “and he said to me -- it was so charming -- ‘I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve a wife like that.’ ”
In addition to her son and sister, Moore is survived by her daughter, Gina Marks; another sister, Betty Kelly; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. A memorial service was held Tuesday.