Audrey Totter
Totter in the 1940s
Audrey Mary Totter

(1917-12-20)December 20, 1917
DiedDecember 12, 2013(2013-12-12) (aged 95)
EducationJoliet High School
Years active1935–1987
Known forThe Postman Always Rings Twice
Lady in the Lake
The Set-Up
Medical Center
Leo Fred
(m. 1953⁠–⁠1995)
(his death)

Audrey Mary Totter (December 20, 1917 – December 12, 2013) was an American radio, film, and television actress and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract player in the 1940s.

Early life

Audrey – some sources indicate "Audra" – Totter was born in 1917[2][3][4] and grew up in Joliet in Will County in northeastern Illinois. Her parents were John Totter, who was born in Slovenia with birth name Janez, and Ida Mae Totter. Her father was of Austro-Slovenian descent and her mother was Swedish American. She had two brothers, Folger and George, and a sister, Collette.

Totter graduated from Joliet High School, where she acted in school plays. She was a Methodist who began her career performing in several productions for her local church, as well as being involved with the YWCA players.[5]


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Totter began her acting career in radio in the late 1930s in Chicago, only 40 miles northeast of Joliet. She played in soap operas, including Painted Dreams, Ma Perkins, and Bright Horizon. She created the role of Millie Bronson in the radio show Meet Millie, a situation comedy about a wisecracking Manhattan secretary from Brooklyn. The radio series began on CBS July 2, 1951, continuing until September 23, 1954. Totter dropped out when her film studio refused to allow her to appear as the character on television.


Following success in Chicago and New York City, Totter was signed to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). She made her film debut in Main Street After Dark (1945) and established herself as a popular female lead in the 1940s. Due to Totter's limited skill as a singer, MGM used Harriet Lee as her voice double in the 1945 film Dangerous Partners.[6] Although she performed in various film genres, she became most widely known to movie audiences for her work in film noir.[7] Looking back, Totter stated in August 1999, "The bad girls were so much fun to play. I wouldn't have wanted to play the Coleen Gray good-girl parts."[8]

Among her successes were:

By the early 1950s, the tough-talking "dames" she was best known for portraying were no longer fashionable, and as MGM began streamlining its roster of contract players and worked towards creating more family-themed films, Totter was released from her contract. She reportedly was dissatisfied with her MGM career and agreed to appear in Any Number Can Play only after Clark Gable intervened. After leaving MGM, she worked for Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, but the quality of her films dropped, and by the late 1950s, her film career was in decline, though she continued to work steadily for television.


In 1954, Totter appeared in the pilot episode of the later 1957–58 detective series Meet McGraw (with Frank Lovejoy), and in 1955, she appeared in an episode of Science Fiction Theatre entitled "Spider, Inc." She appeared with Joseph Cotten and William Hopper in the 1957 episode "The Case of the Jealous Bomber" of NBC's anthology series The Joseph Cotten Show. In 1957, she was cast as Dr. Louise Kendall, in the episode "Strange Quarantine" of the NBC Western series The Californians.

Later in 1958, Totter played boarding house owner Beth Purcell in another NBC Western series, Cimarron City. The episodes were supposed to rotate among star George Montgomery as the mayor, John Smith as blacksmith/deputy sheriff Lane Temple, and Totter, but when the writers failed to feature her character, she left the series.

In 1960, she was in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Madame Mystery". From 1962 to 1963, she starred as homemaker Alice MacRoberts in the ABC situation comedy Our Man Higgins, with Stanley Holloway, Frank Maxwell, and Ricky Kelman. In 1964, she made a guest appearance on CBS's Perry Mason as defendant Reba Burgess in the title role of "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound".

Totter had a continuing role from 1972 to 1976, playing Nurse Wilcox, the efficient head nurse, in the CBS television series Medical Center, with James Daly and Chad Everett. Her last acting role was as a nun, Sister Paul, in a 1987 episode ("Old Habits Die Hard") of CBS's Murder, She Wrote, with Angela Lansbury.

Personal life and death

Totter was married to Dr. Leo Fred,[9] assistant dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, from 1953 until his death in 1995. The couple had one child, a daughter.

In November 1952, Totter said she was a Republican and had supported Dwight Eisenhower's successful campaign during that year's presidential election.[10]

Totter died on December 12, 2013, of a stroke, aged 95.[2] After a memorial service, her body was cremated and her ashes scattered in the Pacific.[11]


Main article: Audrey Totter filmography

See also


  1. ^ "Audrey Totter, 1940s film noir actress, dead at 95". December 16, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Notice of death of Audrey Totter, L.A. Times, December 14, 2013.
  3. ^ Most references cite 1918 as her year of birth but Intelius indicates the year was 1917, as do's United States census records, which give her age in April 1930 as 12 years old, and in January 1920 (see below) as two years old
  4. ^ Year: 1920
    Census Place: Joliet Ward 1, Will, Illinois
    Roll: T625_416
    Page: 2A
    Enumeration District: 185
    Image: 109 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]
    Provo, UT, US: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
    Original data: Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29
    National Archives, Washington, D.C.
    For details on the contents of the film numbers, visit the following NARA web page: NARA. Note: Enumeration Districts 819-839 are on roll 323 (Chicago City)
  5. ^ "An Interview With Audrey Totter", Skip E. Lowe, 1989.
  6. ^ "Harriet Lee (Filmography)". Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  7. ^ Matt Schudel (December 15, 2013). "Actress was known as film noir femme fatale". The Washington Post. p. C8. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  8. ^ Bernard Weinraub (August 23, 1999). "They're Gorgeous, Mysterious and Ready to Make a Sap Out of You". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2011.
  9. ^ "Women Of Today Are Fools!". The Daily Reporter. Ohio, Dover. The Daily Reporter. August 1, 1959. p. 13. Retrieved December 11, 2015 – via Open access icon
  10. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  11. ^ Wilson, Scott (September 16, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476625997. Retrieved August 24, 2017 – via Google Books.