Actress Martha Hyer has died at the age of 89. Glamorous, blonde, and with a moneyed air, Hyer’s peak years were the mid-to-late 1950s, when studios promoted her as the new Grace Kelly, after Kelly abdicated Hollywood to become the Princess of Monaco. Discovered by a talent scout for RKO Pictures while performing at the Pasadena Playhouse, Hyer had her first big role in the 1947 RKO Western Thunder Mountain. She remained stuck in the low-budget cowboy movie ghetto until 1954, when she was cast as William Holden’s high-society fiancée in Sabrina.
Hyer played a variety of socialites, rich girls, and classy dames in such films as Blake Edwards’ Mister Cory (1957); Douglas Sirk’s Battle Hymn (1957); The Delicate Delinquent (1957), which was Jerry Lewis’ first starring vehicle after the breakup of his partnership with Dean Martin; a 1957 remake of My Man Godfrey; and the Cary Grant comedy Houseboat (1958). Her best-remembered role was probably that of Frank Sinatra’s respectable schoolteacher girlfriend in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. But even there, she was overshadowed by her co-star, Shirley MacLaine, who got rave reviews and a Best Actress nomination for a flashier role as the troubled “bad girl” in Sinatra’s life. When Hyer’s subsequent roles failed to get any bigger, it became clear that she had missed her window for movie stardom.
Hyer went on to play supporting roles in some big pictures—including Jean Negulesco’s The Best Of Everything (1959), The Carpetbaggers (1964), and Arthur Penn’s The Chase (1964)—as well as bigger roles in low-budget movies, such as First Men In The Moon (1964), Blood On The Arrow (1964), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), House Of 1000 Dolls (1967), and Once You Kiss A Stranger (1969). Her last movie appearance was in The Day Of The Wolves (1971). She retired from acting completely three years later, after a few guest appearances on such TV shows as The Young Lawyers and McCloud.
In 1966, Hyer married the producer Hal B. Wallis, a year after they had worked together on the John Wayne Western The Sons Of Katie Elder. In 1975, she contributed to the script for another Wallis production, Rooster Cogburn, which starred Wayne and Katharine Hepburn. (The screenplay was credited pseudonymously to “Martin Julien.”) The marriage lasted until Wallis’ death in 1986. In 1990, she published Finding My Way: A Hollywood Memoir.
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