Obituary: Martha O'Driscoll

EVEN BY Hollywood standards. Martha O'Driscoll was an actress of uncommon prettiness, with blond hair, blue eyes and a slightly pouting mouth. Though strictly a B movie star (her failure to graduate to bigger things is attributed by some to a dispute she had with her studio early in her career), she commanded a loyal following who were sorry when she retired at the age of 24 (after 11 years and 37 films) to marry a millionaire.

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1922, she was always a pretty girl and at the age of four was modelling children's clothes. She had started dancing lessons from the age of three, when the family moved to Arizona in 1931. O'Driscoll began appearing in local pageants and plays. The choreographer Hermes Pan spotted her in a production at the Pheonix Little Theatre and suggested to O'Driscoll's mother that Martha would have a good chance in movies.

They moved to Hollywood in 1935, but Pan was out of town, so they answered an advertisement for dancers and O'Driscoll was given a role in Collegiate (1935), a musical typical of its time in which a playboy inherits a college and, as the new Dean, insists that the students' principal efforts should be directed toward learning how to sing and dance. Betty Grable had an early leading role in the film and it was also unusual in having its songwriters, Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, playing themselves as co-chairmen of the school's music department, but otherwise it was unremarkable and O'Driscoll had little to do as a dancing co-ed.

She had other small dancing roles in Here Comes the Band (1935), The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935) and The Great Ziegfeld (1936), an Oscar-winning success, in which she was spotted by a Universal talent scout who arranged for her to have a screen test, followed by a contract.

Her roles were initially small - in her first Universal film, a B thriller She's Dangerous (1937), she was billed simply as "blonde girl" and in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Mad About Music (1937) she was billed as "pretty girl". But her face soon became familiar to film fans because of the many endorsements she did, sanctioned by the studio. Her face appeared on such advertisements as Charm-Kurl Supreme Cold Wave and Max Factor Hollywood Face Powder.

Around this time O'Driscoll met William Lundigan, a former radio actor then making his way in films, and they started an affair that was to last for several years, though they never married.

Universal loaned O'Driscoll to MGM for parts in The Secret of Dr Kildare (1939) and Judge Hardy and Son (1940), but it was RKO who gave O'Driscoll her first two starring roles, as romantic interest to the cowboy Tim Holt in Wagon Train (1940), and notably as Daisy Mae in a transcription of Al Capp's comic strip Li'l Abner (1940), an attempt to transfer Capp's stylised county of Dogpatch to the screen which did not really come off, though O'Driscoll was captivating as the beauty desperately trying to win the husky Abner (Granville Owen) for a mate.

Paramount now became interested in the actress and acquired her contract, casting her first as a maid in Preston Sturges's classic comedy The Lady Eve (1941). Reap the Wild Wind (1942), Cecil B. De Mille's epic sea story, had two beautiful stars, Paulette Goddard and Susan Hayward, but O'Driscoll held her own as a Southern belle, her hair in long blond ringlets (it was her first film in colour), evincing polite disapproval when Goddard, as a Scarlett O'Hara-like heroine, shocks a society ball with an off-colour shanty.

O'Driscoll was then given the lead in an enjoyable B film, Pacific Blackout (1942), with Robert Preston as an innocent man convicted of murder who escapes during a blackout practice and uncovers enemy plans to destroy a US city during a mock air-raid. The actress followed this with a good role as a show- business hopeful in Paramount's Young and Willing (1943), but then the studio let her return to Universal, who cast her in the Olson and Johnson comedy Crazy House (1943), then loaned her to RKO for Richard Wallace's stylish thriller The Fallen Sparrow (1943).

Unhappy with the progress of her career, O'Driscoll tried to get out of her contract on the basis that she was under age when she signed it, and the studio was forced to sue her. They won the case, and some historians have surmised that the ensuing bitterness may have kept O'Driscoll in B pictures.

Hi Beautiful (1944) was one of five films in which she co-starred with Noah Beery Jnr, the others being Allergic to Love (1944), as a bride who gets hay-fever whenever she is near her husband, Under Western Skies (1945), a pleasant musical about a vaudeville troupe out west, The Daltons Ride Again (1945), as a publisher's daughter in love with one of the notorious outlaw brothers, and Her Lucky Night (1945), in which she is told by a fortune-teller that she will meet the man of her life in a cinema, so she buys two tickets, throws one away and hopes for the best.

O'Driscoll also featured in House of Dracula (1945) and Week-end Pass (1945, as a socialite who runs away to join the WACS and meets a shipyard worker who has won a weekend off with pay). The B movie specialist Don Miller wrote of the latter: "It approached the surprise-hit status . . . Into its slender narrative director Jean Yarborough managed to cram not only several amusing situations but also 10 song numbers, all in 63 minutes."

The following year she made her last Universal film, Blonde Alibi, receiving top billing as a girl who sets out to prove her lover (Tom Neal) innocent of murder. Her last film was Edgar G. Ulmer's Carnegie Hall (1947), after which she retired.

In 1943 she had married a young Lieutenant-Commander in the US Navy, but divorced him 10 months later stating that her husband had no comprehension of the demands on her time made by the studio, while admitting herself that she had not fully understood her duties as the wife of an officer in wartime. The court stayed her divorce for the duration of the Second World War, and in July 1947, less than 48 hours after her decree was final, she married another naval officer, Arthur Appleton, who was also the heir to an industrial empire. On return to civilian life, he became president of his family's electronics firm in Chicago. At their wedding, his bride announced that she was "definitely through with pictures, stage and all of that", and so it was to be.

The happy marriage produced three sons and a daughter, all four college graduates pursuing careers away from show business, though the daughter was elected Dartmouth Winter Carnival Queen in 1971. After Appleton's retirement the couple spent most of their time in their Miami beach house cruising on their yacht, or travelling abroad. They bred and raced thoroughbreds, and founded the Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida. O'Driscoll served for a time as president of the Women's Board of the Chicago Boys' Clubs as well as serving on the board of directors of various Appleton enterprises.

The actress became noted for her reluctance to talk about her past career, and, when interviewed by Richard Lamparski for his Whatever Happened To . . . radio and book series, she gave vague or non-committal replies to his questions and "gave the impression of being very ill at ease throughout the brief exchange".

In 1987 she attended the annual reunion of Universal contractees, and one of her former colleagues stated afterwards, "It was like being with her sister or double. She remembered everything but as though it happened to someone else. The Martha O'Driscoll I knew doesn't seem to exist any more. There's only Mrs Arthur Appleton." That is doubtless how the former actress wanted it to be. As she told the writer David Ragan some years ago, "My life has been very full since I left Hollywood."

Tom Vallance

Martha O'Driscoll, actress: born Tulsa, Oklahoma 4 March 1922; married secondly 1947 Arthur Appleton (three sons, one daughter); died Miami, Florida 3 November 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

    There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?