Amorous Dean’s wife in ‘An­i­mal House’

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - World - BY RICHARD SANDOMIR The New York Times

Verna Bloom, who in her first fea­ture film, the semi­doc­u­men­tary “Medium Cool,” moved anx­iously through the ri­ot­ing in Chicago dur­ing the 1968 Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion, and who a decade later played the lust­ful wife of the stiff-necked col­lege dean in “Na­tional Lam­poon’s An­i­mal House,” died Wed­nes­day in Bar Har­bor, Maine. She was 80.

Her hus­band, critic and screen­writer Jay Cocks, said the cause was com­pli­ca­tions of de­men­tia.

While “An­i­mal House” was prob­a­bly her best­known role, “Medium Cool” of­fered Bloom an aus­pi­cious be­gin­ning.

She had been act­ing mostly on­stage when a small role in Studs Terkel’s play “Amaz­ing Grace” led Turkel to rec­om­mend her for “Medium Cool” (1969), cin­e­matog­ra­pher Haskell Wexler’s first fea­ture as a di­rec­tor.

Shot in cinéma vérité style, “Medium Cool” is the story of a lo­cal news cam­era­man (Robert Forster) who meets Eileen (Bloom), a poor woman from West Vir­ginia rais­ing her teenage son in Chicago, while cov­er­ing the city’s so­cial un­rest.

Blend­ing ac­tual events with a fic­tional story, Wexler filmed Bloom — dressed in an eas­ily seen ca­nary yel­low dress — walk­ing through Grant Park, hop­ing to find her son while en­coun­ter­ing demon­stra­tors who had been blood­ied and tear-gassed by po­lice of­fi­cers.

Bloom fol­lowed “Medium Cool” with sev­eral prom­i­nent screen roles, in­clud­ing one op­po­site Clint East­wood in his western “High Plains Drifter” (1973), and an­other as Frank Si­na­tra’s wife in the made-for-tele­vi­sion de­tec­tive movie “Con­tract on Cherry Street” (1977).

But few of her roles res­onated like Mar­ion Wormer, the boozy wife of Dean Ver­non Wormer in “An­i­mal House,” the raunchy hit com­edy about the repro­bates of a fra­ter­nity house at fic­tional Faber Col­lege.

In her first scene with Ot­ter [Tim Math­e­son], the suave leader of the frat, Bloom es­tab­lished her iden­tity.

Ot­ter is clum­sily try­ing to se­duce her in a su­per­mar­ket pro­duce aisle by talk­ing about cu­cum­bers. “My name is Eric Strat­ton,” Math­e­son says.

“They call me Ot­ter.”

“My name’s Mar­ion,” Bloom says. “They call me Mrs. Wormer.”

“We have a Dean Wormer at Faber.”

“What a co­in­ci­dence,” she replies, punc­tur­ing his con­fi­dence. “I have a hus­band named Dean Wormer at Faber.”

She later shows up a frat house toga party and ends up in bed with the young man.

Verna Frances Bloom was born Aug. 7, 1938, in Lynn, Mas­sachusetts. Her fa­ther, Mil­ton, owned a gro­cery store, and her mother, Sara (Dam­sky) Bloom, was a home­maker.

In ad­di­tion to Cocks, Bloom is sur­vived by her son, Sam Cocks.

Bloom’s fi­nal movie role was as Mary, Mother of Je­sus, in Martin Scors­ese’s “The Last Temp­ta­tion of Christ” (1988). Fif­teen years later, she played the step­mother of White House press sec­re­tary C.J. Cregg (Al­li­son Janney) in an episode of “The West Wing.” It was her fi­nal tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ance.

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