Arlene Dahl, who parlayed success as a movie actress in the 1940s and ’50s into an even more successful career as an author, beauty expert, astrologist, and fashion and cosmetics entrepreneur, died on Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 96.
The death was confirmed by her husband, Marc Rosen.
Strikingly beautiful, Ms. Dahl was a model before becoming an actress — “considered one of the world’s loveliest gals,” The Daily News of New York wrote in a profile in 1959, using the parlance of the day.
With her fiery red hair, she was a natural for Technicolor; she notably played the seductive sister of another famous redhead, Rhonda Fleming, in the 1956 crime drama “Slightly Scarlet.” But though she demonstrated her range in everything from westerns, like “The Outriders” (1950), to the Red Skelton comedies “A Southern Yankee” (1948) and “Watch the Birdie” (1950), critics tended to focus on her looks more than her acting. note: Waterfall Movie
“Arlene Dahl is displayed to wondrous advantage,” declared one review of the 1953 adventure “Diamond Queen.”
The industry did the same.
“Arlene Dahl was another classic case — like Jane Greer and Evelyn Keyes — of a smart, fiercely funny woman being pigeonholed by her beauty,” Eddie Muller, who organizes an annual film noir festival in San Francisco, said in an interview in 2009, when Ms. Dahl was the event’s guest of honor. “It was hard for her to break out of the ‘redheaded bombshell’ mold.
“The great thing about Arlene,” he continued, “is that she didn’t let it bother her. She moved easily into other businesses and always seemed to be enjoying herself.” note: Born to be Human Movie
Ms. Dahl had already started branching out when her film career was at its height.
In 1951, she began writing a beauty column, titled “Let’s Be Beautiful,” for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, which she would continue for 20 years. She had personally been recruited by Robert R. McCormick, the publisher of The Tribune, who, she said, “had an idea that if a girl like me would tell women how to be beautiful, they’d believe it.”
She soon founded a cosmetics and lingerie company, Arlene Dahl Enterprises, and would later write a syndicated astrology column as well as numerous books on both astrology and beauty.
These ventures kept her in the public eye long after she had left Hollywood and settled on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. And though acting was no longer her focus after the early 1960s, she was seen into the 1990s on television shows like “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and “Renegade.”
She also appeared on Broadway in 1972, when she took over the lead role in “Applause,” the hit musical based on the 1950 movie “All About Eve.”
Arlene Carol Dahl was born on Aug. 11, 1925, in Minneapolis. Her father, Rudolph Dahl, was a car dealer. Her mother, Idelle (Swan) Dahl, died when Arlene was a teenager. With her father’s blessing, she then moved to Chicago, where she modeled for the Marshall Field’s department store, before relocating again, this time to New York City, where she continued to work as a model while pursuing acting.
In 1945, she landed a small part in a short-lived Broadway musical, “Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston.” The next year, while appearing in Philadelphia in “Questionable Ladies,” a play that would close before making it to Broadway, she was spotted by the movie mogul Jack Warner, who invited her to Hollywood for a screen test.
Ms. Dahl began her movie career with Warner Bros., but soon moved to MGM, the leading studio of the day, where she first attracted notice with supporting roles in movies like “The Bride Goes Wild” (1948) and “Scene of the Crime” (1949). She became a regular presence in the Hollywood gossip columns as well; after dating, among many other men, the young John F. Kennedy, she had two well-publicized marriages to fellow actors.
She and Lex Barker, who played Tarzan in the late 1940s and early ’50s — and who, she told People magazine, was the “most handsome man I’d ever seen” — divorced in 1952 after a year and a half of marriage. Two years later, she married the Argentine actor Fernando Lamas.
That marriage was tempestuous. The two had many public spats and several reconciliations meant to preserve the union — for the sake, Ms. Dahl said at the time, of their son, Lorenzo Lamas, who would go on to have a successful acting career of his own — but they ended in failure.
Ms. Dahl and Mr. Lamas divorced in 1960. She would marry four more times. She married Mr. Rosen, a perfume bottle designer, in 1984. In addition to him, she is survived by Lorenzo Lamas; a daughter, Carole Delouvrier, from her third marriage, to Chris Holmes; another son, Stephen Schaum, from her fifth marriage, to Rounsville Schaum; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Many of Ms. Dahl’s ideas about beauty seem quaint at best today, but they were the key to her initial success as a writer. “Women are fast losing femininity, their proudest possession,” she said in a 1963 interview, “and I think it is important to tell them what men think so they will not lose what is most desired.”
She had comparable success later when she started writing about astrology.
While she was passionate about the subject — one interviewer wrote that she wanted to know his sign before she would agree to sit down with him — Ms. Dahl stopped short of claiming that astrology could predict the future.
“I liken astrology to a weatherman who forecasts the weather,” she said in a 2001 CNN interview. “If the weatherman says it’s going to rain tomorrow, you get up in the morning and you look out, and you see that it’s cloudy and it’s likely to rain, so you take an umbrella if you don’t want to get wet. Well, it’s the same thing with astrology.”