Kathy Marlowe, actress who was compared to Marilyn Monroe – obituary

Kathy Marlowe - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Kathy Marlowe - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Kathy Marlowe, who has died aged 87, was an actress who found herself being compared to better-known screen sirens such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield.

In 1958 she was a young Venusian in the campy delight, Queen of Outer Space (1958), with Zsa Zsa Gabor, and the same year she saw her name in lights, starring as a beautiful schemer in the low-budget noir Girl with an Itch, which bore the tagline “That girl on fire who starts in where Monroe and Mansfield left off!”

It was a drive-in staple for some years but did little for her career. Most of her films were low-budget outings, noir thrillers, sci-fi chillers and slightly odd Westerns, although she did surface in 1957 as a supporting actress in The Pajama Game with Doris Day and The Helen Morgan Story with Paul Newman.

“There were two obvious reasons why Hollywood liked me,” she mused in 2015, alluding to her well-proportioned figure. “But truthfully, you had to be pretty savvy to be a sex goddess. Marilyn was kooky as hell, but take it from me, as a former Hollywood ‘It Girl’, you had to be real smart to play that dumb.”

She was born Kathleen Ann Maslowski on December 31 1934 to Polish immigrants in Minneapolis. She only ever wanted to be a film star: “I was playing dress-up and let’s-pretend before I could speak. I was transfixed by the lure of Tinseltown.”

Her chance came when aged 15, she moved to California to live with her older sister. While still at high school there she changed her surname to the more Hollywood-sounding “Marlowe” and signed with a modelling agency, winning contests that saw her crowned “Miss Travelling Saleslady”, “Miss Long White Potato” and “Miss Lawn Seed”. She recalled: “Those seed magnates were worth big bucks and sponsored endless talent contests. I helped their profits grow.”

The teenager also found work in such films as the George Cukor noir A Double Life (1947); as a spectator at a football game in My Foolish Heart (1949); as a reporter in the sci-fi Rocketship X-M (1950), about a group of astronauts who are bound for the Moon, only to end up on Mars; and in No Way Out (1950), arguably one of Hollywood’s best offerings about racial prejudice, starring Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier.

She appeared in the 1954 film noir The Human Jungle, and was then an inmate in Women’s Prison (1955), starring Ida Lupino as a hard-boiled, sadistic superintendent. She also featured in television shows, including Dragnet, and had a recurring role in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.

'I was transfixed by the lure of tinseltown' - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
'I was transfixed by the lure of tinseltown' - Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

But despite her top billing in Girl with an Itch, the dawn of the Sixties began to mark a change in the appetite of cinema-goers. Although the deaths of Marilyn Monroe in 1962 and Jayne Mansfield in 1967 removed her better-known rivals, the game was up for Kathy Marlowe. Just as Jayne Mansfield had been, she was always available to open supermarkets, drug stores, highways and department stores. “These gigs paid well,” she said. “I knew my time was up.”

Having married and acrimoniously divorced the actor Harry Jackson, in 1962 she married a former sailor, Jerry Thompson, who operated fishing boats in Newport Beach, California; he died in 2018.

Kathy Marlowe liked to muse on her life in pictures, but was realistic about the motives of some of those who wanted to question her. “I like to remember the old days,” she said recently, “but with those fans who know their onions, not the new breed who only want an autograph so they can sell it on eBay.”

Kathy Marlowe is survived by her three children.

Kathy Marlowe, born December 31 1934, died July 2 2022