Mona Freeman, a film star of the 1940s and ‘50s who often played the spunky, wholesome girl next door but longed for roles as “wildcats, brazen women, the menacing side of the triangle,” has died. She was 87.
Freeman also was a painter; her most widely viewed work, a portrait of kindly, bespectacled candy matriarch Mary See, hangs in See’s Candies shops across the U.S.
Freeman, who had a lengthy illness, died May 23 at her Beverly Hills home, said her daughter, Mona Hubbell.
A teenage model in New York City, Freeman was named “Miss Subways” in May 1941. She was 14 at the time and was helping to put her brother through Yale.
In her first film, “Till We Meet Again” (1944), she played a 15-year-old girl in wartime France. In film after film — “Junior Miss” (1945), “Dear Ruth” (1947), “Dear Wife” (1949), “Dear Brat” (1951), she played blond, beautiful, wide-eyed teens.
In 1953 — as a 27-year-old married mother — she complained to columnist Hedda Hopper about the burden of eternal youth. Asked what kind of role she really wanted, Freeman, who was “curled up in a chair in [Hopper’s] den, primly dressed in a yellow pleated skirt and angora sweater,” replied:
“There’s a triangle love case in the courts right now — and the girl has to be an all-time dilly. I’d like to play a character like her.”
Hopper was stunned: “‘Mona!’ I exclaimed.”
Three years later, the 30-year-old Freeman was wistful about her seemingly endless adolescence.
“It was fine for a while,” she told The Times. “Casting directors had only to find my agent’s number to fill that type of role. But just like driving the same road day after day, they’ve become a bore to me.”
Freeman appeared in many TV productions, including “The United States Steel Hour,” “Playhouse 90,” and episodes of “Maverick,” “Perry Mason,” “Checkmate” and “The Millionaire.” Her films included “Streets of Laredo” (1949), “The Heiress” (1949), “Copper Canyon” (1950) and “Battle Cry” (1955). She also toured with Edward G. Robinson in a 1958 production of the Paddy Chayefsky play, “Middle of the Night.”
Born in Baltimore on June 9, 1926, Monica Elizabeth Freeman was raised in Pelham, N.Y. Her marriage at 19 to Los Angeles auto dealer Pat Nerney ended in divorce seven years later. In 1961, she married Los Angeles businessman H. Jack Ellis and devoted herself to painting portraits, many of them on commission.
Freeman’s portrait of Mary See, the mother of the candy company’s founder, has been displayed in the chain’s shops for decades.
Freeman had an art studio at home and owned a gallery.
“I didn’t dislike acting, but when I no longer needed the money I lost all interest,” she told the Toronto Star in 1988. “I haven’t even seen some of my pictures.”
But as miscast as she sometimes felt, she could have a good time on the set.
In a 2006 reminiscence, writer and director Larry Gelbart recalled Freeman bursting into laughter when he leaned over to kiss her during his audition for “Junior Miss.”
“He’s just so funny-looking,” she loudly whispered to director George Seaton.
When she composed herself, they tried the scene again.
“This time, being a pro, not wanting to waste any expensive camera time, Ms. Freeman laughs out loud a whole lot faster,” Gelbart wrote.
The part went to Mel Torme.
In addition to her daughter from her first marriage, who starred under the name Monie Ellis in the 1972 TV film “Gidget Gets Married,” Freeman’s survivors include six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.