Vanessa Brown, the bright radio “Quiz Kid” who became a popular leading lady in films and stage productions of the 1940s and 1950s and later a respected writer, has died. She was 71.
Brown died Friday of cancer at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills.
During her heyday as an actress, Brown appeared in such varied productions as “The Seven Year Itch” opposite Tom Ewell on Broadway (a role later assumed by Marilyn Monroe in the film version) and the motion picture “Tarzan and the Slave Girl.”
“The swinging in the trees was not too difficult,” she told The Times in 1949, describing her role as Jane to Lex Barker’s ape man. “My muscles are in good shape. Playing the role itself as I thought it should be played required much more effort.”
Brown toured with Katharine Hepburn in a Theatre Guild production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” and became something of a protege of the legendary actress.
Among Brown’s major films of the late 1940s and early 1950s were “I’ve Always Loved You,” “The Late George Apley,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “The Foxes of Harrow,” “The Heiress,” “The Fighter” and “The Bad and the Beautiful.”
Decades later, Brown returned to the screen in supporting roles in the 1967 “Rosie” and the 1971 “Bless the Beasts and Children.” She also appeared on television in recent years, including “General Hospital” a number of times, “Murder, She Wrote” in 1989, and “Homicide: Life on the Streets” in 1997.
But acting was only a part of the many-faceted Brown’s career.
Born Smylla Brind in Vienna, she was the brilliant daughter of two holders of doctoral degrees, language teacher Nah Brind and psychologist Anna Brind. When she was 9, the family fled to France and then to America to escape the Nazis.
The precocious child, who spoke German, French and Italian as well as English, was in elementary school in Manhattan when she heard that the producer of “Watch on the Rhine” was looking for a little girl with a German accent. She borrowed subway fare and went directly to author Lillian Hellman, wangling a part as understudy. By the end of the play’s run, she was a regular member of the cast.
At 14, Brind was dazzling national audiences of “The Quiz Kids,” a radio game show that ran from 1940 to 1953, featuring a panel of five exceptional children answering questions from listeners and studio audiences.
“What has eight legs and sings?” asked comedian guest host Fred Allen, in the middle of the academic, serious questions.
“A quartet,” snapped the budding actress, unfazed.
“This kid,” said Allen, “must have been met at the dock by Milton Berle.”
Brind (soon renamed Brown) also charmed producer David O. Selznick, who brought her to Hollywood. At 16, billed as Tessa Brind, she appeared in her first film, the 1944 “Youth Runs Wild.”
Between acting assignments, Brown earned an English degree at UCLA.
In 1952, when she was Broadway’s new darling in “Seven Year Itch,” Brown shared top place in a radio poll with Britain’s Princess Margaret as “the two outstanding young women of the season.”
During the play’s long run, Brown began painting impressionistic oils, and by 1958 staged a one-woman show in a Beverly Hills gallery.
More prominently, Brown became a writer, ranging from a playwright to author to journalist. She penned the play “Europa and the Bull,” a novel, and the nonfiction book “The Manpower Policies of Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz.” She was a correspondent for Voice of America and a frequent contributor to The Times and other publications.
Brown was active in politics as well, serving as a delegate to the 1956 Democratic National Convention and campaigning for presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.
Married and divorced from plastic surgeon Robert Alan Franklyn in the early 1950s, Brown married director Mark Sandrich Jr. in 1959. She is survived by their two children, David and Cathy Sandrich.
Memorial services are scheduled Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles.
The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, Calif. 91364.