Maxine Cooper Gomberg, an actress best known for playing the secretary in the 1955 film noir classic “Kiss Me Deadly,” has died. She was 84.
Gomberg, who also was a social activist, died of natural causes April 4 at her Los Angeles home, her family said.
The crime thriller “Kiss Me Deadly,” loosely based on the Mickey Spillane novel, marked the feature film debut of the actress, then known as Maxine Cooper, and Cloris Leachman. Gomberg was Velda, the affectionate and trusty secretary of Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer, the antisocial private eye at the heart of the film.
“Kiss Me Deadly” is considered a “seminal film noir,” said Alan K. Rode, an expert in film noir, the black-and-white shadowy films that examine the underbelly of society.
The movie “was kind of a touchstone for the postwar, Cold War nuclear era, and a signpost for what was to be the end of film noir as film noir morphed into television programs,” he said.
For decades, Meeker and Gomberg were at the center of a mystery surrounding the end of “Kiss Me Deadly,” the Robert Aldrich film about the paranoia of the Atomic Age.
Since the early 1970s, the movie’s original ending, in which “Velda” and “Mike” watch the beach house explode, had disappeared. Instead, prints featured a truncated finale that ended with the explosion and implied that the characters had not survived.
A film editor turned detective helped restore 64 seconds of footage in the late 1990s after tracking down Aldrich’s personal print. Why the ending had been mutilated in the first place remains unresolved.
Aldrich cast Gomberg in “Kiss Me Deadly” after seeing her in a Los Angeles theatrical production of “Peer Gynt.” She also had small roles in the Aldrich films “Autumn Leaves” (1956) and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962).
After marrying screenwriter and producer Sy Gomberg in 1957, she quit acting in the early 1960s to raise her family and rally Hollywood activists.
With her husband, she helped organize actors, writers and executives to march in the 1960s with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Montgomery, Ala. She also marshaled the entertainment community to participate in protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons, among other national and local causes.
She was born May 12, 1924, in Chicago to Richard Cooper, a General Electric distributor, and his wife, Gladys.
While at Bennington College in Vermont, Gomberg became interested in theater and finished her dramatic training at the Pasadena Playhouse.
In 1946, she went to Europe to perform in shows for soldiers. Gomberg stayed for five years, appearing in BBC-TV and theatrical productions.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Gomberg appeared mainly on TV throughout the 1950s in such shows as “Dragnet,” “Perry Mason” and “The Twilight Zone.”
Later in life, she developed an interest in photography. When Gomberg’s photographs illustrated the Howard Fast book “The Art of Zen Meditation,” The Times’ 1977 review called the book “beautiful.”
Gomberg’s husband died in 2001 at age 82. She is survived by a son, Chris; two daughters, Katherine and Marsha; and five grandchildren.
Services were private.
Instead of flowers, the family suggests donating to the Beacon Academy, 477 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02215, or Wise & Healthy Aging, 1527 4th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401.