Dorothy Provine dies at 75; actress in ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ and ‘The Roaring Twenties’TV series


Dorothy Provine, who played the singing, high-kicking flapper in the early-1960s TV series “The Roaring Twenties” and appeared in the all-star movie comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” has died. She was 75.

Provine, a longtime resident of Bainbridge Island, Wash., died of emphysema Sunday at Hospice of Kitsap County in Bremerton, said her husband, Robert Day.

A former University of Washington drama major, Provine landed the title role in the low-budget 1958 gangster film “The Bonnie Parker Story” three days after arriving in Hollywood.

The blond actress also played the title role in the 1959 movie “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock” opposite Lou Costello and made a string of TV guest shots before landing her first TV series, “The Alaskans,” a 1959-60 ABC adventure program set in the Alaskan gold rush of the 1890s.

Provine played Rocky Shaw, the saloon-singer friend of fortune hunters played by Roger Moore and Jeff York.

But the Warner Bros. contract player gained far more attention playing Pinky Pinkham, the singing and dancing star attraction at a high-end speakeasy in the 1960-62 ABC series “The Roaring Twenties,” a New York City-set newspaper drama with Rex Reason and Donald May as investigative reporters.

Dubbed “TV’s ‘It’ girl” by UPI’s Rick Du Brow in 1961, Provine told the writer that she “wanted to play the flapper in this show so badly that I’d go home and pray.”

“When the studio was looking for the girl for the flapper part in ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and asked me if I could dance, I said, ‘Yeah.’ I worked like a dog at home getting the Charleston as fast and frantic as I could. The secret is that I put on 33 rpm records at 78 rpm speed.”

While still under contract to Warner Bros., Provine was lent out to play Jack Lemmon’s wife in the 1964 movie comedy “Good Neighbor Sam,” and she played Milton Berle’s wife and Ethel Merman’s daughter in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”.

She also teamed with George Burns in a nightclub act that played Las Vegas in the summer of 1963.

Among her other film credits are “The Great Race,” “That Darn Cat!,” “Who’s Minding the Mint?” and “Never a Dull Moment.”

Dean Jones, who co-starred with Hayley Mills and Provine in “That Darn Cat!,” recalled having lunch with Provine in the executive dining room at Disney Studios while making the 1965 movie.

“She was kind of like a roman candle, to me,” Jones told The Times on Thursday. “Several times during lunch I’d just sit back and listen and watch her. She had a quicksilver personality and was always talking about interesting events and stories about her past.

“I felt she was a very underrated actress. She did everything, really. But she was mainly a comedienne and a very funny gal, and you knew in a scene that she was not going to drop the ball.”

Provine was born Jan. 20, 1935, in Deadwood, S.D., and grew up in San Francisco.

In 1969, she married Day, a film and television director.

“When we got married, she wasn’t really interested in acting or being in the movies anymore,” Day said. “She was a homebody, very much so.”

He said that after they moved to Bainbridge Island in 1981, “I still made some television shows, but Dorothy was totally retired. She loved working in the garden until she got sick. Her love was that and animals, particularly dogs.”

His wife enjoyed the quiet life, he said, “and she loved Bainbridge. It’s still reasonably rural, which we love.”

In addition to her husband and their musician son Robert, Provine is survived by her sisters, Susan Cameron and Patricia Coldiron.