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Marjorie Lord dies at 97; 'Make Room for Daddy' star supported L.A. cultural causes

Marjorie Lord dies at 97; 'Make Room for Daddy' star supported L.A. cultural causes
Marjorie Lord played Danny Thomas' loyal wife on TV's "Make Room for Daddy." She was also a philanthropist who supported the arts. (Los Angeles Times)

It wasn't easy for Marjorie Lord to leave acting after four decades. But there was grace to consider.

And given the alternatives, "I would rather retire graciously," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1989.

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Graciously was how she did most things, said her grandson Tommy Davis, a Los Angeles private equity executive. "She was possibly the most elegant, gracious and ladylike woman I ever met — like at an iconic level, you know?"

After acting, she seamlessly remade herself into a Los Angeles philanthropist and co-founder of the Scripter Award.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Marjorie Lord obituary: In the Dec. 12 California section, the obituary of Marjorie Lord referred to her grandson Tommy Davis as a "real estate specialist." Davis is a private equity executive in a company with varied investments, including real estate.

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Lord, star of the television series "Make Room for Daddy" and widow of Union Bank magnate and Music Center patron Harry J. Volk, died of natural causes Nov. 28 at her home in Beverly Hills. She was 97.

The mother of actress Anne Archer had a string of Broadway and movie credits to her name. In two 1943 films — "Shantytown" and "Sherlock Holmes in Washington" — she appeared with her first husband, John Archer, who died in 1999.

But she was best known for her role as loyal wife to Danny Thomas' character in "Make Room for Daddy," which first aired in 1953. There, her gracious style was a counterweight to Thomas' comedy. "She melted him, and in life, too, he was completely melted by her," Archer said.

Lord got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 and eventually returned to the stage. But it was her second act as a fundraiser and organizer for arts causes in Los Angeles that filled her later years. She volunteered to support the Joffrey Ballet, the USC libraries, the Banning Museum in Wilmington, and the Music Center, which Volk, her third husband, helped found and finance.

The Scripter Award, established in 1988, was designed to build support for USC libraries, one of her favorite causes. The award recognizes authors and screenwriters for book adaptations. She supported "anything to do with the arts. She was all about the arts," her daughter said.

Lord was born July 26, 1918, in San Francisco to George and Lillian Wollenberg and danced ballet starting in early childhood. When her father, who worked in retail, was transferred to New York, she got a manager and became a teenage Broadway star, landing a role as an ingenue in "The Old Maid," which ran four months.

Living on her own in a New York hotel for women, she doggedly pursued her career. When she shifted to film and television during Hollywood's Golden Age, signing first with RKO and later with Universal, her grace and deep stage background set her apart, Archer said.

"She had a radiant kind of lovely beauty; she was very feminine and had a sweetness about her," she said.

Lord and Archer divorced after nine years, and she later married Randolph Hale, an actor and member of a prominent San Francisco retail family. They were married until his death nearly two decades later. Volk died in 2000. Lord self-published a memoir in 2005.

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Lord raised her two children mostly on her own, Archer said. "She was the breadwinner. She had to be.... No man ever paid for anything for her."

Archer, an Oscar-nominated actress in her own right, made sure her mother attended her early theater performances. "She always gave the best notes," she said.

Besides her daughter, who also uses last name Jastrow, and her grandson, Lord is survived by a son, Gregg Archer of Los Angeles, four other grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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