Audrey Totter, 95, a blond leading lady of 1940s film noir who starred as a tough-talking dame in “Lady in the Lake,” “The Set-Up” and “High Wall,” died Thursday at West Hills Hospital, said her daughter, Mea Lane. Totter, a Woodland Hills resident, had a stroke and suffered from congestive heart failure.
Although she had a relatively short film career, Totter created memorable movie moments while under contract with MGM from 1944 to the early ‘50s. A former radio actress, she had a small part in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” the 1946 movie based on James M. Cain’s pulp novel. She landed her breakthrough role in “Lady in the Lake,” the 1947 film version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective story that Robert Montgomery directed and starred in. She also appeared opposite Claude Rains in the 1947 thriller “The Unsuspected,” acted with Robert Taylor in “High Wall” (1947), starred in Robert Wise’s 1949 gritty boxing drama “The Set-Up” and snarled her way through “Tension” (1949).
“The bad girls were so much fun to play,” Totter told the New York Times in 1999.
But in 1952 Totter put aside her performing career to focus on her family, marrying Dr. Leo Fred, who taught at the UCLA School of Medicine, and giving birth to her daughter. Totter later returned to acting, mainly on television, with recurring roles on “Our Man Higgins,” “Dr. Kildare” and “Medical Center” and guest spots on “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Perry Mason,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Murder, She Wrote” and other series.
Totter was born in Joliet, Ill., on Dec. 20, 1917, according to her daughter, and began acting in the ‘30s in radio dramas.
After her husband died in 1995 and movie buffs rediscovered her film noir scenes on video and cable TV, Totter said she began receiving job offers.
“What could I play?” she said in a 2000 interview with the Toronto Star. “A nice grandmother? Boring! Critics always said I acted best with a gun in my hand.”
Times staff reports