Claire Trevor, Oscar winner, dies at 91

Thesp played tough woman in 'Stagecoach,' 'Key Largo'

Actress Claire Trevor, who memorably carved a niche as the hard-bitten gal with a heart of gold in such films as “Dead End,” “Stagecoach” and “Key Largo,” for which she won a supporting actress Oscar, died April 8 near her Newport Beach home. She was 91.

Trevor made more than 60 films in a career that stretched from the 1930s to the 1980s. Besides “Key Largo,” Trevor was Oscar nominated for “Dead End” and “The High and the Mighty.”

Born Claire Wemlinger in 1909 (some sources list 1910 and 1912) on Long Island, she was raised in Larchmont, New York. After graduating high school in Mamaroneck, she enrolled at Columbia U. but then left to study briefly at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Signed by WB

Back in New York, she was signed by a Warner Bros. scout to be in a series of shorts and then to a stock company the studio had developed in St. Louis. For ten weeks, she worked with other hopefuls including Lyle Talbot and Wallace Ford, for $85 a week.

In 1931, while working with the Hampton Players in Long Island, she was wooed by producer Alexander McKaig to star in “Whistling in the Dark,” which opened on Broadway the following January and lasted eight months.

She also starred in “The Party’s Over,” a play that fell victim to the Depression. Reading the writing on the wall, she took a contract offered by Fox. She had previously turned down an MGM contract.

First film

Her first film was “Life in the Raw,” a Western with George O’Brian. She then starred in “The Mad Game” with Spencer Tracy. She quickly became a B-movie fixture, appearing in a number of films with James Dunn. Over the next few years, she appeared in only two A titles: “To Mary — With Love” (1936) and “Second Honeymoon” (1937).

But the constant work, more than 20 films, paid off in her scene stealing role as a prostitute in “Dead End.” Trevor blamed Fox honcho Darryl Zanuck’s lack of faith in her for his not capitalizing on her triumph.

She eventually moved to Warners, where, except for “The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse” and “Valley of the Giants,” not much improved. So she kept herself busy on radio in the CBS series “Big Town” with Edward G. Robinson.

A chance to shine

In 1939, she got her second chance to shine as John Wayne’s non-virginal love interest in John Ford’s “Stagecoach.”

In the early ’40s, she worked in a couple of big films, including “Honky Tonk” (most of her work was cut out), and after taking time out to start a family, she starred in “Murder My Sweet” in 1945 and then on stage in “Dark Victory.

She tried to make a comeback on Broadway in “Out West It’s Different,” but the Sam and Bella Spewack comedy sputtered. She did return in 1947 for “The Big Two,” but despite good reviews, it closed after only 21 performances.

In the early ’50s she worked with Ida Lupino in “Hard, Fast and Beautiful,” scored another Oscar nomination for “The High and the Mighty” and made her TV debut for NBC’s Ford Theater in “Alias Nora Hale.”

Emmy win

In 1956, she won an Emmy for an NBC production of “Dodsworth” with Fredric March. She continued to work in television, even making guest appearances on shows like “Dr. Kildare.

By the late 1950s, Trevor was in films only sporadically, by now playing mothers in “Marjorie Morningstar’ and “The Stripper.” She was a hard-hearted woman in 1962’s “Two Weeks in Another Town” and got a rare chance at comedy in “How to Murder Your Wife.”

She then disappeared from the screen until a brief return in 1982 in “Kiss Me Goodbye.”

Trevor outlived both her husband, Hollywood producer and agent Milton Bren, and her son, Charles. Charles died in 1978, in a plane crash near San Diego. The following year, Bren died of a brain tumor.

Last year, Trevor donated $500,000 to the University of California, Irvine, School of the Arts, which renamed its student theater in her honor.

Funeral services will be private.

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