Obituary: Phyllis Brooks

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The Independent Online
Phyllis Weiler (Phyllis Brooks), actress: born Boise, Idaho 18 July 1914; married Torbert MacDonald (one son); died Cape Neddick, Maine 1 August 1995.

Phyllis Brooks decorated a couple of dozen films of the Thirties and Forties - often with spirit and very prettily, as befits someone who had modelled for James Montgomery Flagg, McClelland Barclay and Bradshaw Crandall, all followers of Charles Dana Gibson, who had given America that idealised beauty "The Gibson Girl".

20th Century-Fox starred her in a B, Dangerously Yours (1937), with Cesar Romero. She also supported the studio's top stars: Alice Faye and Tyrone Power in In Old Chicago (1938), playing a senator's daughter who flirts with Power, and Shirley Temple in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (also 1938), as Randolph Scott's stuck-up fiancee. She was in Britain for an Edgar Wallace story, The Flying Squad (1940), helping the Scotland Yard man, Sebastian Shaw, unmask the man responsible for her brother's death - but this was yet another effort destined for the lower half of the bill.

Back in the US, she seized the best role ever offered her, in Josef von Sternberg's last grand flourish, The Shanghai Gesture (1941), the old melodrama finally filmed after 20 years and no less than 32 discarded scripts: Mother Goddam's brothel was now Mother Gin Sling's gambling den, but with more girls than men propping up the bar - Brooks prominent among them, displaying shapely legs and a certain disenchantment with the male sex.

She had made her mark, and Paramount hired her to play one of the assistants of the troubled heroine in a lavish version of the Kurt Weill / Moss Hart musical, Lady in the Dark (1944) - bought at the demand of Ginger Rogers. Her co-star, Ray Milland, spoke darkly of "the last straw", while the director, Mitchell Leisen, claimed that the experience took 10 years off his life. Brooks "almost stole the whole show," Picturegoer reported. "So Ginger got a great deal of it cut out of the film and insisted that Phyllis be given little or no publicity."

This was the last straw too for Brooks: after getting murdered in The Unseen (1945) and starring in two more Bs opposite Robert Lowery, she retired.