Pamela Tiffin, actress described as ‘Hollywood’s favorite air-headed ingénue’ in the 1960s – obituary

Pamela Tiffin in 1964 - 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock
Pamela Tiffin in 1964 - 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

Pamela Tiffin, who has died aged 78, played the flighty female lead in a string of adventure comedies during the 1960s, earning the title “Hollywood’s favorite air-headed ingénue”; later she made a second career as a leading lady in Italy.

She was born Pamela Tiffin Wonso on October 13 1942 in Oklahoma City to Stanley Wonso, a retired architect and his wife Grace. The family moved to Chicago, where aged 13, Pamela took on modelling jobs to save money for college.

She moved to New York and attended Hunter College while simultaneously working as a model. She made her first Vogue cover aged 18 and was soon earning $1,500 a week.

In 1960, she travelled to Los Angeles with her mother and was soon invited for a screen test by Hal B Wallis at Paramount Studios which quickly established her as a rival to Jane Fonda, Raquel Welch and Ann-Margaret. “It was a Cinderella kind of story,” she recalled later.

Pamela Tiffin with Robert Wagner in Harper - aka Detective Privé (1966, lobbycard) -  LMPC
Pamela Tiffin with Robert Wagner in Harper - aka Detective Privé (1966, lobbycard) - LMPC

She won rave reviews for her role in Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke (1961) as Nellie Ewell who steals the handsome Dr John Buchanan, Jr (Laurence Harvey) away from the sexually frustrated spinster Alma Winemiller (Geraldine Page).

She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Billy Wilder’s political satire One, Two, Three (1961), as Scarlett Hazeltine, an addle-brained Southern teenager who, on holiday in West Germany, sneaks across the border into East Berlin and ends up marrying communist Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz). James Cagney played her guardian C.R. MacNamara.

Billy Wilder described her as “another Audrey Hepburn… she comes off on the screen even better than she looks and in this case that’s saying a lot.”

Pamela Tiffin's other Hollywood film credits include State Fair (1962), Come Fly with Me (1963), For Those Who Think Young, The Pleasure Seekers, The Lively Set (all 1964) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965). In Harper (1966, with Lauren Bacall and Paul Newman) she gave a scene-stealing performance as a sharp-tongued, man-hungry heiress, performing a seductive dance on a diving board wearing a very small bikini.

Pamela Tiffin during her time in Italy - KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Pamela Tiffin during her time in Italy - KEYSTONE-FRANCE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The same year she travelled to Italy, dyed her hair blonde and became Marcello Mastroianni’s first American leading lady in the comedy Oggi, domani, dopidomani (1966). Back in the US her performance as Kitty Packard in Dinner at Eight, by George S Kaufman and Edna Ferber, on Broadway won her Theatre World’s Most Prestigious Newcomer award.

In 1962, Pamela Tiffin had married Clay Felker, editor of Esquire magazine, but the marriage soon ran into trouble and she decided to return to Italy where she appeared in everything from comedies to spaghetti westerns, including Kill Me with Kisses (1968) starring Nino Manfredi, and as the voluptuous Gloria Bianchi in The Archangel (1969).

With limited cinema distribution in America, however, US fans assumed she had settled in Europe and vanished.

She returned to America sporadically, taking the odd acting role, including the first episode of the television series The Survivors, and played Paula Whitland, a political activist taken hostage by Mexican General Maximilian Rodrigues De Santos (Peter Ustinov) in the comedy Viva Max! (1969).

Divorced from Felker in 1969, she married again in 1974 to Edmondo Danon, son of the film producer Marcello Danon, and retired to raise their family. A decade later she was coaxed out of retirement for the television film Rose Marie (1986) co-starring Valerie Perrine.

She is survived by two daughters.

Pamela Tiffin, born October 13 1942, died December 4 2020