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Movie and television star Blair dies

Actress appeared in 1940s musicals and comedies

Janet Blair, the vivacious actress who appeared in several 1940s musicals and comedies, then turned to television, died Feb. 19 in Los Angeles from complications of pneumonia. She was 85.

Blair languished in second-rate pictures until Rosalind Russell recommended her for the title role in the comedy “My Sister Eileen.” She won praise from critics, and her roles quickly improved.

She appeared opposite George Raft in the gangster movie “Broadway” and costarred with Cary Grant and a dancing caterpillar in the 1944 comedy-fantasy “Once Upon a Time.” She was the love interest in “The Fabulous Dorseys,” starring bandleaders Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, and appeared opposite Red Skelton in the 1946 sleeper hit “The Fuller Brush Man.”

But after the 1948 swashbuckler “The Black Arrow,” Columbia dropped her and she turned her back on Hollywood, moving on to theater and television.

“All I got were princess parts,” she said then. “A girl gets tired of being a princess all of the time.”

From the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, she appeared in such Golden Age of Television shows as The Ford Theater Hour, the Philco Television Playhouse, Lux Video Theater and The United States Steel Hour.

She returned to movies in 1957, starring opposite Skelton again, in “Public Pigeon No. 1.”

She made only a handful of films after that, including “The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band” opposite Fred MacMurray and Buddy Ebsen in 1968.

She joined television’s landmark “Caesar’s Hour” in 1956. She returned to series television in 1972 as Henry Fonda’s wife in “The Smith Family.”

She is survived by two children.

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