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Dorothy Malone, Peyton Place actress, played shady dames with sex appeal

Dorothy Malone, an actress known for her sultry roles, including an Oscar-winning star turn as a nymphomaniac rich girl in Written on the Wind from 1956 and who later starred in the 1960s prime-time TV soap opera Peyton Place, has died in Dallas aged 92.

Malone arrived in Hollywood during the height of the studio era in the 1940s and appeared in dozens of movies, including westerns, musicals and crime dramas.

With an alluring voice and gaze, she first gained acclaim for a small role opposite Humphrey Bogart in the noirish 1946 detective film The Big Sleep. She played a bookstore clerk who helps Bogart's character, Philip Marlowe, identify a suspect, then eagerly shares a bottle of rye with him on a rainy day.

In a memorable scene, Malone removes her glasses, pulls down a window shade – a move she improvised during the filming – and says, "Looks like we're closed for the rest of the afternoon."

In 1954, Ms Malone changed her dark hair colour to blond for a role as Doris Day's sister in Young at Heart, a musical that also starred Frank Sinatra. The new look helped transform her career. "I came up with a conviction that most of the winners in this business became stars overnight by playing shady dames with sex appeal," she said in 1967. "And I've been unfaithful or drunk or oversexed almost ever since – on the screen, of course."

Perhaps her finest role came in Written on the Wind, a 1956 melodrama set in her home state of Texas and directed by European emigre Douglas Sirk.

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In 1964, Malone received top billing on ABC's Peyton Place, a wildly popular series based on Grace Metalious's 1956 novel and two earlier movies. Her character, Constance Mac­Kenzie, was a New England bookstore owner protecting a deep secret. Mia Farrow played her daughter.

Peyton Place was the first prime-time soap opera on US television. At its height, it had three episodes a week, featuring illicit love affairs, hidden identities and all manner of small-town hypocrisy.

After she complained about her character's lack of substance, Malone was written out of Peyton Place a year before it finished its run in 1969. She sued the show's producers and received an out-of-court settlement.

Dorothy Eloise Maloney was born January 30, 1925, in Chicago and soon moved with her family to Dallas. Her father was a telephone company auditor.

She was appearing in a student play at Southern Methodist University when she was signed to a Hollywood contract by the RKO studio. She later joined Warner Bros and dropped the "y" in her last name.

In 1949, she returned to Texas to work for an insurance company, but after a business trip to New York she decided to give acting another shot. She studied at the American Theatre Wing and worked in television before returning to Hollywood. She settled permanently in Dallas in the late 1960s.

Her first marriage, to actor Jacques Bergerac, who was previously married to Ginger Rogers, ended in divorce. ("I wish Ginger had warned me what he was like," she later said.)

Her second marriage, to Robert Tomarkin, who was later jailed in connection with financial crimes, was annulled. Her third marriage, to businessman Charles Huston Bell, ended in divorce.

Survivors include two daughters from her first marriage, Mimi Vanderstraaten and Diane Thompson, both of Dallas; a brother, retired federal appeals court judge Robert B. Maloney of Dallas; and six grandchildren.

During the 1960s, Ms Malone was reportedly one of the highest-paid actresses in television, earning $250,000 a year for her role in Peyton Place.

When asked by the Toronto Star in 1988 whether she was set for life, she replied: "Don't you believe it. I had a husband who took me to the cleaners.The day after we were married, he was on the phone selling off my stuff."

The Washington Post