Actress and vocal coach Nora Dunfee, who played the Southern lady at the bus stop who sympathetically advised Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” died Dec. 23 in Manhattan after a brief illness. She was 78.
Dunfee was on location in Montgomery, Ala., when she became ill. She was working on Charlie Matthau’s “The Grass Harp” with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Sissy Spacek. Dunfee had a role and was Spacek’s dialogue coach.
She also appeared in “Lorenzo’s Oil” and served as Susan Sarandon’s vocal consultant on that film.
A master teacher in the Graduate Acting Program of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts since 1966, Dunfee was dialect coach and speech consultant on pix including “Witness,” “Mrs. Soffel,” “Sweet Dreams,” “A World Apart,” “Crimes of the Heart,” “No Mercy,” “Trading Moms,” “The Serpent and the Rainbow” and the upcoming “Rob Roy.”
In the theater, she was the vocal consultant for Debbie Reynolds in her title role in “Irene,” (1972), Mike Nichols’ production of “The Real Thing” (1984) starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons, Mel Shapiro’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (1971) and Sam Shepard’s “A Lie of the Mind” (1985).
Born Marjorie Dean Dunfee on Christmas Day in 1915 in Belmont, Ohio, she began her professional acting career at the renowned Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine, where Sinclair Lewis cast her in “Our Town.”
She went on to play the role of the nurse to Diana Barrymore’s Juliet, and Off Broadway in 1958’s “The Midnight Caller” and “John Turner Davis,” double-billed one-act plays by Horton Foote.
She also appeared in “Smoky Links” at American Place Theater in the 1970s and Mac Wellman’s “Crowbar” at the Victory Theater in the late 1980s.
During her study of speech and voice under Margaret Prendergast McLean, Dunfee met and married her husband, actor David Clarke, in 1946.
The couple appeared together in Hume Cronyn’s 1947 production of “Portrait of a Madonna” starring Jessica Tandy at Hollywood’s Las Palmas Theatre.
They also appeared in John Houseman’s production of “Coriolanus” (1954) and “Madam, Will You Walk?” (1953), staged by Cronyn at the Phoenix Theater in New York, as well as the original production of “The Visit” (1958) with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.
Most recently, in 1981 they appeared in “The Gin Game” at the Hangar Theater in Ithaca, N.Y., staged by Ron Lagomarsino.
She taught privately in New York and California, and over the years worked with such actors as Julie Haydon, Raul Julia, Mel Gibson, Diane Keaton, Tuesday Weld, Keanu Reeves, Barbara Hershey and James Earl Jones who had been a student of hers since the 1950s.
In addition to her husband, Dunfee is survived by her two daughters, actress and dialect coach K.C. Ligon of New York and Susan Bennett of Seattle, and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Fifth Floor Theater, Tisch School of the Arts, 111 Second Ave., Manhattan.