Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dana Wynter - A Regal Lady

Dana Wynter was a beautiful and very elegant leading lady of Hollywood films of the 1950s and 60s. She starred in numerous television productions and a wide range of pictures such as comedies, dramas, sci-fi, action and war films. Most often she portrayed refined ladies for whom leading men would strive to win her love in the course of the picture, and it was in these roles that she really excelled for no other actress had the quiet sophistication that she possessed naturally. Class...that's what she had. No matter what role she was given that innate gracefulness of demeanor showed through. 

I remember the first movie I saw with her was "Sink the Bismarck". I watched it with my sister in parts as a history lesson during homeschool. The battle scenes and the historical aspects of the film I didn't pay attention to at all, but what I did notice was the subplot - a gentle blossoming of love between Kenneth More ( a widowed naval captain ) and Ms. Wynter, his secretary/officer in the midst of the tactical mayhem taking place within London's operational underground headquarters. She has little dialogue in the movie but it does not matter because, like Kenneth More's character, you feel reassured by her understanding presence. 

Probably her most famous movie of all is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Once again she’s a welcome presence. Here she plays Dr. Bennell’s beautiful high school sweetheart Becky. When the townspeople and his two best friends all become transformed into pod people, it is only he and Becky who are left and must flee from the dreadful alien invaders. Chillingly good film.

In 1961 she starred opposite Danny Kaye in the comedy “On the Double”. He played a hypochondriac G.I who, due to his resemblance to an important British general, gets chosen to be a decoy [target] in the event of an attempt on the general’s life. Hmmm….lucky Danny. Not the patriotic task he hoped to fulfill – but he did get one lucky break though…..the general’s wife was a real beauty…..Dana Wynter of course! And naturally he falls in love with her along the way. Darlin’ Meggie becomes her theme song in this song and by golly, every time I hear that melody I still associate it with her.

A few years later, in 1963, she starred along with George C. Scott in the superb whodunit “The List of Adrian Messenger”. And it was around this time that she began to really get a foothold in television too. One of her very best tv appearances was in The Unlocked Window, a spine-tingling “Alfred Hitchcock Hour” presentation. As Nurse Stella, caring for a bedridden invalid, she was trapped with another nurse in a secluded Victorian manor during a storm….while a serial killer ( with a fancy for nurses ) is on the prowl in their very area!  EEK! Not only was Dana Wynter a versatile actress but she was a talented journalist as well, writing articles for The Guardian and The Chronicle as well as penning a book entitled “ Other People, Other Places : Memories of Four Continents” about her life in various countries. 

Born Dagmar Spencer-Marcus Winter on June 8th, 1931 in Berlin, Germany to a noted British surgeon ( Peter Winter ) and a Hungarian mother, Dana was raised in England and later moved to South Rhodesia with her father and stepmother where at the age of 18 she entered Rhodes University as a pre-med student, intending on following in her father’s footsteps. Alas, she was sidetracked by amateur theatricals during school and so she moved back to England, changed her name and took to the stage. Not long after, she moved to New York and did small tv
appearances on such shows as Studio One, and Robert Montgomery Presents. An American agent soon took her to Hollywood though and she quickly went on to play leading roles in such films as “The View from Pompey’s Head”,” Invasion of the Body Snatchers”,” Shake Hands with the Devil” and “D-day Sixth of June” becoming a well-sought for actress. 

During the mid-60s her career as a motion picture began to decline and so she did more and more tv guest appearances. In 1966 she starred opposite Robert Lansing in the short-lived television series “The Man Who Never Was”, and occasionally returned to films, such as making a cameo  in “Airport”  in 1970 as Burt Lancaster’s socialite wife.

Ms. Dana Wynter suffered from heart disease these last few years and on May 5th, 2011 she passed away at the age of 79. She will be sorely missed by a certain fan of hers ( me ) and I’m sure by many others as well. What a truly beautiful person we have lost.