Betta St. John, actress in "South Pacific" and "Dream Wife", dies at 93

Betta St. John, actress in “South Pacific” and “Dream Wife”, dies at 93

Betta St. John, who played lovable islander Lita in the original Broadway production South Pacific and played a princess opposite Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the MGM romantic comedy Dream wife, is dead. He was 93 years old.

St. John died June 23 of natural causes in an assisted living facility in Brighton, England, said her son, television producer Roger Grant. The Hollywood Reporter.

The California native played one of the survivors of a plane crash, chased by a crocodile Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957) – the first Tarzan film in 15 years and the first in color – and then returned for Tarzan the Magnificent (1960). Both films starred Gordon Scott as the King of the Jungle.

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St. John also co-starred with Stewart Granger, Ann Blyth and Robert Taylor in All the brothers were brave (1953); with Victor Mature, Piper Laurie and Vincent Price in the 3-D adventure Dangerous mission (1954); and with Arthur Kennedy in Edgar G. Ulmer The naked dawn (1955).

At the age of 10, she sang and made her screen debut in Destry rides again (1939), with Marlene Dietrich and Jimmy Stewart.

St. John had what she called “her first part in an adult film” when she played Tarji, a Middle Eastern princess who becomes engaged to businessman Clemson Reade (Grant) after he foolishly gets married. separated from her boyfriend (Kerr), in Dream wife (1953), directed and co-written by Sidney Sheldon.

The actress, married to the late English actor-singer Peter Grant, has lived in London over the years and has made several films in the UK, including horror films with Christopher Lee Corridors of Blood (1958), with Boris Karloff, e Horror hotel (1960).

“My last film, Horror hotelit was kind of an embarrassment because I didn’t like horror movies,” she said in a 2008 interview. “But I’m glad I did because, it turns out, it’s a cult film and very good in its own way.”

DREAM WIFE, Betta St. John, Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, 1953

From left: Betta St. John, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in a promotional photo for 1953 ‘Dream Wife’

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

Betty Jean Striegler was born on November 26, 1929 in Hawthorne, California. Her father, George, was an electrician; Her mother, May, enrolled her in theater school on Saturdays starting at age 7. She learned “to dance and sing and all the things you do at an early age,” she recalled. “If studios needed children, they contacted theater schools.”

He got his first job in Destry rides again, where she sat on the back of a moving wagon and sang “Little Joe, the Wrangler,” which Dietrich previously performed in the classic western. She was hired to play Dietrich’s Frenchy as a child, but most of her lines were cut.

St. John had a minor part in The Wizard of Oz (1939) because her family was going on a vacation, but she made a Our gang briefly in 1940, then showed up in Merle Oberon’s Lydia (1941) and Jane Eyre (1943), with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine.

Discovered by scouts for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, St. John – still a sophomore in high school – and her mother boarded a train and headed to New York. On her sixteenth birthday, she took the stage Carousel – was only the second Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, after Oklahoma! – like daughter Louise. She then continued with the show’s touring company.

In 1949, he originated the role of the innocent Liat opposite Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza in the highly anticipated South Pacific, performing “Happy Talk” with hand gestures as Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) sang the show’s memorable tune. (France Nuyen played Lita in the 1958 film adaptation at Fox.)

After New York, she went with South Pacific in 1951 in the West End, where Englishman Peter Grant played his lead as Lieutenant Joe Cable (Martin and his son, Larry Hagman, were also in the production).

She and Grant were married in November 1952 and were together until his death from cancer in 1992 at the age of 69.

In the trailer for Dream wifeSt. John is well advertised as “the screen’s new dream girl… South Pacific.”

She appeared as a disabled woman in the CinemaScope epic He dresses her in 1953, then made four films that hit theaters the following year: Dangerous missionthe musical The student prince (like another foreign princess), The law against Billy the Kid AND The Saracen bladethe latter two directed by William Castle.

It also included his big screen resume Alias ​​John Preston (1955), High tide at noon (1957) and The snorkel (1958).

THE SARACEN BLADE, Ricardo Montalban, Betta St. John, 1954

Betta St. John with Ricardo Montalban in “The Saracen Blade” from 1954

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

St. John gave up acting in the early 1960s. “I thought my career was long enough, and I didn’t feel like I was giving up much at that point,” she said. “But I gave it up mostly because I wanted to stay home and raise kids, and my family was so much more important to me.

“Very few actors, even very successful ones, can keep a family and a marriage together, with a good career. At that point, I realized I didn’t have the kind of acting ability that would go on forever.

She was inducted into the Hawthorne Hall of Fame in 2019 and has spent the last four years living full-time in England.

In addition to her son, survivors include her daughters, Karen and Deanna, and her grandchildren, Kristen, Matt, Drew and Michael.