Se­duc­tive singer starred in ‘Peter Gunn’ and ap­peared in dozens of movies

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­post.com

Lola Albright, an al­lur­ing ac­tress who was per­haps best known for her role as a sul­try night­club singer in the noirish tele­vi­sion de­tec­tive se­ries “Peter Gunn,” died March 23 in Los An­ge­les. She was 92.

Her death was first re­ported by the Akron Bea­con-Jour­nal in her Ohio home town. The cause was not dis­closed.

Miss Albright made her screen de­but in the late 1940s and ap­peared in nu­mer­ous west­erns and other B movies be­fore be­ing cast in “Peter Gunn,” an adult drama that aired from 1958 to 1961 and has be­come a cult clas­sic.

The se­ries, cre­ated by di­rec­tor Blake Ed­wards, starred Craig Stevens in the ti­tle role as a debonair de­tec­tive, with Miss Albright play­ing his of­ten-stood-up girl­friend, Edie Hart. She crooned a song in each episode at a shabby-chic jazz club called Mother’s, which never seemed to close. (In the show’s fi­nal sea­son, Edie had her own club.)

“There she is, Lola Albright, slink­ing her way onto the screen, fre­quently in song, at the gritty club called Mother’s,” critic Diane Werts wrote in 2012 for the web­site TVWorthWatch­ing.com. “She’s a sexy chanteuse, but she’s more — Gunn’s girl­friend, and his rock, and a frisky part­ner in play.”

Miss Albright was nom­i­nated for an Emmy Award for “Peter Gunn,” which had a strik­ing theme song that won two Grammy Awards for its com­poser, Henry Mancini. Miss Albright’s lan­guorous singing and beauty con­trib­uted to the moody aura of “Peter Gunn,” which ran for 114 episodes on NBC and later ABC.

“She was per­fect cast­ing for that role be­cause she had an off-the­cuff kind of jazz de­liv­ery that was very hard to find,” Mancini said in 1992. “Just enough to be­lieve that she’d be singing in that club and that she shouldn’t be on Broad­way or do­ing movies.”

Beyond the for­mu­laic west­erns and sci­ence fiction movies, Miss Albright was of­ten cast as a femme fa­tale, in­clud­ing as a lusty mar­ried wo­man pur­su­ing Kirk Dou­glas in the 1949 box­ing movie “Cham­pion.” She played a beauty pageant con­tes­tant with a driven mother in “Beauty on Pa­rade” (1950). In 1955, she ap­peared as one of Frank Si­na­tra’s many love in­ter­ests in “The Ten­der Trap.”

Miss Albright be­gan act­ing in tele­vi­sion dur­ing the medium’s in­fancy and had a re­cur­ring role in “The Bob Cummings Show” in the 1950s be­fore land­ing her part in “Peter Gunn.”

One of the few times she was cast in the lead­ing role came in 1961 with “A Cold Wind in Au­gust,” an edgy drama di­rected by Alexan­der Singer.

Miss Albright por­trayed an ag­ing strip­per, Iris Hart­ford, who se­duces a teenage boy.

“What’s your hurry?” she tells the boy, played by Scott Mar­lowe. “You got a heavy date? You gotta go out and hus­tle hub­caps?”

A New York Times critic dis­missed the film as ex­ploita­tion, say­ing the pro­duc­ers “have con­fused art with bla­tant sex.” But a New York Her­ald Tri­bune re­viewer noted that “there is much to com­mend this oddly com­pelling in­de­pen­dent pro­duc­tion, not the least of which is a strik­ing per­for­mance by Lola Albright.”

The role cre­ated fric­tion in her mar­riage, Miss Albright said in a 1961 in­ter­view, but added: “I couldn’t turn it down — it was a show­case role, the kind that comes around once in a life­time and a chance to show what I re­ally can do.”

Lois Jean Albright was born July 20, 1924, in Akron. Her par­ents were gospel singers, and she stud­ied mu­sic through­out her child­hood.

Be­fore she turned 20, she had been a re­cep­tion­ist at a Cleve­land ra­dio sta­tion, mar­ried an an­nouncer and moved to Chicago. While she was work­ing as a model, a photographer sug­gested that Miss Albright give Hol­ly­wood a try.

She had dozens of film and TV cred­its in the 1950s and 1960s, rang­ing from “The Mono­lith Mon­sters” to “Gun­smoke,” “The Bev­erly Hill­bil­lies” to “Burke’s Law” and “The Al­fred Hitch­cock Hour” to the Elvis Pres­ley box­ing movie “Kid Gala­had.”

She re­leased two al­bums as a singer, “Lola Wants You” (1957) and “Dreamsville” (1959), both with mu­sic con­ducted by Mancini.

In 1966, she had a role as Tues­day Weld’s sui­ci­dal mother in the odd­ball se­rio-com­edy “Lord Love a Duck,” for which she won a bestact­ing award at the Ber­lin Film Fes­ti­val. Miss Albright’s fi­nal film ap­pear­ance came in 1968, when she played David Niven’s wife in the gen­er­a­tion-gap farce “The Im­pos­si­ble Years.”

Her mar­riages to War­ren Dean, ac­tor Jack Car­son and mu­si­cian and restau­rant owner Bill Chad­ney ended in di­vorce.

Sur­vivors in­clude a step­daugh­ter from her third mar­riage.

Miss Albright had oc­ca­sional TV roles into the mid-1980s, then re­tired to a life of semi-seclu­sion.

Dis­cussing her dar­ing role in “A Cold Wind in Au­gust,” she said in 1961, “Some peo­ple come up to me and say, ‘Lola, you shouldn’t play that kind of part — it isn’t you.’ Well, I count to 10, bite my tongue and then tell them that I’m an ac­tress: I don’t want to play my­self.”

PETER STACKPOLE/THE LIFE PIC­TURE COL­LEC­TION VIA GETTY IMAGES

A pub­lic­ity photo for the 1949 film “Cham­pion” fea­tures Lola Albright and Kirk Dou­glas.

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