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Arlene Dahl, who has died aged 96, was a 1950s screen icon and former model whose fiery red hair, blue eyes and porcelain white skin made her a natural for the early years of Technicolor.
She rose to fame after starring as Van Johnson’s glamorous ex-fiancée in the 1948 romcom The Bride Goes Wild and enjoyed a steady career as a decorative presence in musical comedies, period pieces and romantic dramas.
She was best remembered for Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959) the original film adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel, in which she teamed up with James Mason and Pat Boone as Victorian explorers who burrow into the Earth’s core via an Icelandic volcano.
But Arlene Dahl became as famous for her turbulent love life, which included six marriages and an affair in the late 1950s with a young senator called John F Kennedy, whose clothes sense left much to be desired: “The first time he came to pick me up, his suit was crumpled. I said, ‘Oh my God, Jack, you can’t go to a party like that’. So I brought down my hot-pink chiffon negligee and he sat in it while I pressed his clothes.”
She swapped her first husband Lex Barker, a Tarzan of the early 1950s (“the best undressed man I’ve ever known”), for the fiery Argentine actor Fernando Lamas who left her after failing to persuade her to give up work, though he conceded that “being married to Arlene Dahl was very nice at nighttime.”
Later marriages, to Christian Holmes, an oil tycoon, wine importer Alexis Lichine and financier Rounsevelle Schaum also ended in divorce before she found happiness with Marc Rosen, a perfume executive 18 years her junior, whom she married in 1984.
Arlene Dahl had few illusions about her screen career, dismissing many of her films as “an embarrassment”. Knowing that her decorative appeal was time-limited, in the early-1950s she embarked on a second career, writing a syndicated beauty column and marketing her own line of lingerie, cosmetics and other merchandise. In the 1970s she teamed up with Sears, Roebuck to produce skin-care and health products and founded a perfume company.
She would later write a syndicated astrology column as well as books on astrology and beauty, including Always Ask a Man: The Key to Femininity (1965) a work of its time which included such sage advice as “A girl puts a man on guard psychologically when she takes to wearing pants around the house” and “enlarge your mental horizons by taking up new interests, new hobbies, new challenges, but never let your own interests override your husband’s.”
Arlene Carol Dahl was born in Minneapolis on August 11 1925, to parents of Norwegian ancestry. Her mother died when she was 15 and the following year she moved to Chicago, where she found work as a model.
After a brief contract with Warner Bros, in 1948 she joined MGM and went on to appear in numerous Hollywood productions of the 1950s, though few could be rated classics.
She appeared only occasionally in films after 1960, though in the 1980s and ‘90s she featured in US television soaps. In 1972 she took the lead role as the ageing actress threatened by an ambitious young upstart on Broadway in Applause, the musical based on the 1950 film All About Eve.
In 1991 she had a role in the action film Night of the Warrior, starring her son Lorenzo Lamas.
He was the son from her second marriage. She also had a daughter from her third marriage and a son from her fifth, once explaining in an interview that she had timed her caesarean deliveries to produce siblings with favourable astrological chemistry.
They survive her with her husband.
Arlene Dahl, born August 11 1925, died November 29 2021