Mona Freeman: Hollywood starlet of the 1940s who made her name in youthful roles but resented being typecast as a teenager

 

Mona Freeman was popular for her convincing portrayal of teenagers in films of the 1940s, notably in the hit comedy Dear Ruth (1947) and its two sequels, Dear Wife (1949) and Dear Brat (1951). She played Betty Grable's daughter in Mother Wore Tights (1947) and was still playing such roles well into her twenties, but though she later played leading lady to such stars as William Holden and Alan Ladd, she never became a top star as an adult, though she made telling impact in Otto Preminger's disturbing film noir, Angel Face (1952).

The daughter of a contractor, she was born Monica Elizabeth Freeman in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1926, and she was only 14 years old and still at high school when she started modelling for the famed Powers agency. In May 1941, she became the first winner of the title of the newly conceived "Miss Subways", an honour bestowed monthly on a subway traveller (parodied by Betty Comden and Adolph Green as "Miss Turnstiles" in their show and film, On the Town). Freeman's photograph on a magazine cover caught the eye of Howard Hughes, who signed her to a personal contract, which he later sold to Paramount.

Her first screen role was to be as Barbara Stanwyck's stepdaughter in Billy Wilder's classic, Double Indemnity (1944), but she photographed too young so was replaced by Jean Heather. Her screen debut was in an uncredited role in National Velvet (1944), then she played a 15-year-old in wartime France in Till We Meet Again (1944), but her first major role was in Robert Florey's compelling Danger Signal (1945), in which she is deceived by the charms of fortune hunting Zachary Scott and refuses to heed the warning of her older sister (Faye Emerson).

In the 1940s the escapades of teenage heroines were a popular staple of Broadway plays, and Freeman was cast in two delightful screen adaptations, Junior Miss (1945) and Dear Ruth. Peggy Ann Garner had the star role in Junior Miss, but Freeman was amusingly effective as her older sister, embarrassed at Garner's over-dramatising, and constantly being called on by young suitors. In Dear Ruth she had a central role as a teenager who corresponds with a soldier using the name and photograph of her glamorous older sister (Joan Caulfield), sparking a chain of misunderstandings when the soldier (William Holden) comes to call when on leave.

The film's success spawned two sequels, Dear Wife and Dear Brat , with Freeman getting top billing in the last and still looking the part, though actually 25 years old. In 1945 she married a millionaire car dealer, Pat Nerney, and while she was filming Mother Wore Tights she discovered that she was pregnant with her only child, Mona Jr, known as "Monie".

In the Grable musical she had a good role as the oldest daughter of vaudeville performers who misguidedly becomes ashamed of her parents. The film was a big hit, and Grable's favourite of her films.

One of Freeman's favourite roles was that of Olivia DeHavilland's cousin Marion in William Wyler's masterly The Heiress (1949). Though she was leading lady to William Holden in Streets of Laredo (1949) and Alan Ladd in Branded (1950), Freeman was not happy that her teenage image persisted. "Just like driving the same road day after day, they've become a bore to me," she said, and stated that she wanted to play "wildcats, brazen women, the menacing side of the triangle."

After she divorced Nerney in 1952 her name was linked with Vic Damone, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. She and Crosby were expected to wed after his wife, Dixie Lee, died, but they were Catholics and Freeman had been divorced. She married businessman H Jack Ellis in 1961. He adopted Monie, and the marriage lasted until his death in 1992 (Mona and her daughter can be glimpsed as part of the circus audience in The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952).

Her last notable screen role was that of the sweetheart of an ambulance driver (Robert Mitchum) who has become fatally seduced by a pathological beauty (Jean Simmons) in Angel Face. One of the best scenes is the first meeting between the two women, Simmons having suggested they have lunch. The cat-and-mouse sparring that follows is superbly played by both actresses.

Freeman made her last film, Dragoon Wells Massacre, in 1957, and the following year she toured opposite Edward G Robinson in Paddy Chayevsky's play Middle of the Night. She was a regular guest star in television series until the mid-1960s – she played in three episodes of Perry Mason as three separate clients. She then concentrated on her successful career as a portrait painter, owning an art gallery and having an art studio in her home. "I didn't dislike acting," she said, "but when I no longer needed the money I lost all interest."

Monica Elizabeth Freeman, actress and painter: born Baltimore, Maryland 9 June 1926; married 1945 Pat Nerney (divorced 1952; one daughter), 1961 H Jack Ellis (died 1992); died Beverly Hills 23 May 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Wayne Rooney warms up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane
football
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015