Susannah York dies at 72; actress

Susannah York in 2005

Susannah York in 2005

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Actress Susannah York became a star in the 1960s with performances in several high-profile films such as 1969’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” for which she received an Academy Award nomination. But she fought to be noticed for more than her striking appearance.

Susannah York: The obituary of actress Susannah York in the Jan. 17 LATExtra section misspelled the last name of author David Thomson as Thompson. —

“I always felt that I was a character actor,” York told the Scotsman newspaper in 2008. “It bothered me that people would think of me as blonde and blue-eyed and that was it.”

York died Saturday of cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, her son, actor Orlando Wells, told the Associated Press. She was 72.

York acted in film, on stage and on television but may be best known for a string of movies that included “Tom Jones” in 1963 and “A Man for All Seasons” in 1966.

“She was a very talented actress who came of age during a particularly fruitful time in British theater and film,” film critic Leonard Maltin told The Times. “She had great sensitivity and versatility.”

“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” was the story of contestants in a marathon dance. Charles Champlin, The Times’ entertainment editor at the time, called the film a “grim and unrelenting account” of life during the depths of the Great Depression.

York was nominated for best supporting actress for portraying Alice, a doomed imitation of a screen star from the era, Jean Harlow. The movie’s strong cast included Jane Fonda, who was nominated for best actress, and Gig Young, who was named best supporting actor.

In his book “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film,” author David Thompson called York “an English rose from a wilder garden” than earlier British actresses.

She became famous, after all, during the tumultuous 1960s. Olga Craig, writing in London’s Sunday Telegraph in 2001, said the “stunningly beautiful” York was “with Julie Christie and Sarah Miles one of the quintessential faces” of the ‘60s.

She was born Susannah Yolande Fletcher on Jan. 9, 1939. Her parents divorced when she was young, her mother remarried and the family moved from England to Scotland. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art she took her first major role, with Alec Guinness and John Mills in the 1960 film “Tunes of Glory.”

Among her other roles during the decade was portraying a lesbian in the 1968 drama “The Killing of Sister George.”

“In my early films I was terrified of being typecast as very proper, very demure,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “I was terrified people would think I was dull. But the truth was I was a bit of a rebel.”

In 1972, York was named best actress at the Cannes International Film Festival for her role in the thriller “Images.” Maltin said York’s performance as a troubled woman was “a tour de force collaboration” with director Robert Altman. In 1978’s “Superman,” she made her first appearance as the hero’s mother, opposite Marlon Brando as Superman’s father.

She also wrote two children’s books.

Her stage work included a one-woman show, “The Loves of Shakespeare’s Women,” which she performed in several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles in 2005.

“As a young actress I railed against the attention my looks attracted,” York told the Sunday Telegraph in 2001. “I wanted recognition for my talent. I never really saw any great beauty staring back at me from the mirror.”

In addition to her son, York is survived by her daughter Sasha and two grandchildren, according to British media reports. She was divorced from Michael Wells.