I have this theory that women named Audrey are always beautiful. Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Tatou. And of course Audrey Horne was the most beautiful woman in Twin Peaks, a show full of truly beautiful women. Another data point in these calculations was the lovely Audrey Totter, who was told by Lionel Barrymore that she was never going to be a star because she was too versatile an actress. She didn’t project herself enough, he said. And maybe that’s the reason and maybe it isn’t, but she’s definitely someone I don’t hear brought up much. And she deserves talking about more.
Okay, so yes, I first think of her as the old blind lady from The Apple Dumpling Rides Again, and I’m a bit ashamed of that. After all, she’s the sort of person who got career advice from Lionel Barrymore. Then again, the closest she got to real stardom is coming sixth-billed in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She was supposedly cast for the Ava Gardner role in The Killers but Lady in the Lake ran long, and Gardner got the role instead. George Stevens wanted her for A Place in the Sun, but MGM wouldn’t loan her for it, and Shelley Winters got the part. I suspect she’s another one of those actresses whose career was one movie away from true stardom most of her acting life.
In fact, she even refused to come out of retirement for Titanic, a role that got Gloria Stuart an Oscar nomination. (Stuart was seven years older; in fact Totter wasn’t yet born with the Titanic went on her fatal voyage.) She spent a lot of time working in television because, once films noir faded from popularity, there weren’t a lot of great roles available to her. It’s the problem, I suppose, with really fitting into a certain genre; once that genre loses popularity—and they all rise and fall in popularity sooner or later—your roles dry up.
I’m surprised she only did the one Perry Mason, honestly; it’s the recurring place for noir figures on TV at the time, I believe. Her last role was in an episode of Murder, She Wrote, which is rather less surprising. She played a nun in it, and I don’t remember the episode and therefore cannot tell you if she was the killer or Jessica’s old friend who gets accused of the crime—or else the victim, of course, which is always a possibility. I don’t know. But it’s certainly more in her line than The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, which was her last film role.
She said she liked playing a bad girl, that it was more fun. I can see that; you get a wider range of options with the bad girl, since most Hollywood good girls are the same. And good girls have to be purely good girls. Especially under the Code; they didn’t get to have any fun at all. It’s a shame Audrey Totter didn’t get better known; she was good at having fun.