Mercedes McCambridge
McCambridge in All the King's Men (1949)
Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge

(1916-03-16)March 16, 1916
DiedMarch 2, 2004(2004-03-02) (aged 87)
Alma materMundelein College
Years active1930s–2004
  • William Fifield
    (m. 1939; div. 1946)
  • (m. 1950; div. 1962)

Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge[1] (March 16, 1916 – March 2, 2004) was an American actress of radio, stage, film, and television. Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress".[2] She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her screen debut in All the King's Men (1949) and was nominated in the same category for Giant (1956). She voiced the demon Pazuzu in The Exorcist (1973).[1]

Early life

McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Irish-American Catholic parents Marie (née Mahaffry) and John Patrick McCambridge, a farmer.[3][4] She graduated from Mundelein College in Chicago.[3]



McCambridge began her career as a radio actor during the 1930s while also performing on Broadway. In 1941, she played Judy's friend in A Date with Judy.[5] She had the title role in Defense Attorney, a crime drama broadcast on ABC in 1951–52.[6] Her other work on radio included:

She frequently performed feature roles on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and was an original cast member on Guiding Light (before the Bauers took over as the central characters). She also starred in her own show, Defense Attorney on ABC 1951–52, as Martha Ellis Bryan.[8]

From June 22, 1953, to March 5, 1954, McCambridge starred in the soap opera Family Skeleton on CBS.[9]


McCambridge played Katherine Wells in Wire Service, a drama series that aired on ABC during 1956–57, produced by Desilu Productions. The series starred McCambridge, George Brent, and Dane Clark as reporters for the fictional Trans Globe Wire Service.

In the season one episode of the original Lost in Space series "The Space Croppers", first aired on CBS on March 30, 1966, McCambridge played Sybilla, the matriarch of a family of supernatural space farmers.

In an episode of Bewitched titled "Darrin Gone! and Forgotten," which first aired on ABC on 17 October 1968, McCambridge played a powerful witch named Carlotta (McCambridge's real first name), a frenemy of Endora. Endora and Carlotta had made a pact "at the turn of the century" that their first-born children would one day marry. When, according to the terms pact, certain celestial phenomena signaled it was time for the marriage, Carlotta (McCambridge) disappeared Darrin and pushed for Samantha to marry her coddled son Juke (played by veteran character actor Steve Franken).


McCambridge's film career took off when she was cast as Sadie Burke opposite Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men (1949). McCambridge won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the role, while the film won Best Picture for that year. McCambridge also won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress and New Star of the Year – Actress for her performance.[citation needed]

In 1954, she co-starred with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in the offbeat western drama, Johnny Guitar, now regarded as a cult classic.[10] McCambridge and Hayden publicly declared their dislike of Crawford, with McCambridge labeling her "a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady."[3]

McCambridge played the supporting role of Luz in the George Stevens classic Giant (1956), which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. She was nominated for another Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress but lost to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind. In 1959, McCambridge appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer.

McCambridge appeared as a leather jacket-wearing hoodlum in Touch of Evil, reuniting with her former radio colleague Orson Welles for the 1958 film.

McCambridge provided the dubbed voice of Pazuzu, the demon possessing the young girl Regan (played by Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. To sound as disturbing as possible, McCambridge insisted on swallowing raw eggs, chain smoking and drinking whiskey to make her voice harsh and her performance aggressive. Director William Friedkin also arranged for her to be bound to a chair during recordings, so that the demon seemed to be struggling against its restraints. Friedkin claimed that she initially requested no credit for the film—fearing it would take away from the attention of Blair's performance—but later complained about her absence of credit during the film's premiere.[11] Her dispute with Friedkin and the Warner Bros. over her exclusion ended when, with the help of the Screen Actors Guild, she was properly credited for her vocal work in the film.[3]

In the 1970s, she toured in a road company production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Mama, opposite John Carradine as Big Daddy.

McCambridge appeared as a guest artist in college productions. In May 1977, she helped dedicate the theater building of El Centro College by starring in a production of The Madwoman of Chaillot.[3] Director Eddie Thomas had known her for many years and she conducted an actors' workshop for the college students during the week prior to the opening night. She returned in 1979 for El Centre's production of The Mousetrap, in which she received top billing despite her character being murdered (by actor Jim Beaver) fewer than 15 minutes into the play. She also starred with longtime character actor Lyle Talbot (of ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) in the 1970 production of Come Back, Little Sheba in the University of North Alabama Summer Theatre Productions.

In the mid-1970s, McCambridge briefly took a position as director of Livengrin, a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center for alcoholics. She was at the same time putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be released autobiography, The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (Times Books, 1981), ISBN 0-8129-0945-3.

Personal life

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939.[3] They had a son, John Lawrence Fifield, born in December, 1941. The couple divorced in 1946 after seven years of marriage.[citation needed]

In 1950 McCambridge married Canadian Fletcher Markle, an actor/producer/director who directed her in productions on Ford Theater and Studio One. Her son, John, later took Markle's name, thereafter being known as John Markle. During the marriage and afterward, McCambridge battled alcoholism, often being hospitalized after episodes of heavy drinking. She and Markle divorced in 1962, after twelve years of marriage. In 1969, after years with Alcoholics Anonymous, she achieved sobriety.[citation needed]

From 1975 to 1982, McCambridge devoted her time to the nonprofit Livengrin Foundation of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. She first served as a volunteer member of the Board of Directors, then as president and CEO, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the treatment center, which at the time was a 76-bed residential program for both male and female alcoholics. Livengrin still operates today, and has 129 beds and 8 outpatient clinics throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, treating both alcoholism and drug addiction. McCambridge, through her celebrity and larger-than-life personality, helped bring public recognition to, and acceptance of the disease of addiction, as well as the benefits of seeking treatment for the disease. She freely shared her own story of addiction and recovery as a means of reaching others in need of help.[citation needed]

She was a staunch outspoken liberal Democrat who campaigned for Adlai Stevenson.[1]

McCambridge died on March 2, 2004, two weeks before her 88th birthday in La Jolla in San Diego, California, of natural causes.[3]

Family tragedy

McCambridge's son John Markle, a UCLA graduate with a Ph.D. in Economics,[1] joined the Little Rock, Arkansas investment firm Stephens Inc. in 1979, after working for Salomon Brothers in New York City.[12] Markle was a successful futures trader, and quickly rose through the company's ranks. McCambridge gave Markle $604,000 to manage for her, but in the fall of 1987, the company discovered that Markle had opened a secret account in McCambridge's name.[12] Soon the company found that Markle had been charging trading losses to the Stephens house account, while crediting profitable trades to McCambridge's account.[12] Markle was later shown to have forged his mother's signature in opening the account.[12]

Markle was placed on medical leave, then fired from his position at Stephens. McCambridge refused to cooperate with Markle and the company in instituting a repayment scheme that would have kept the matter from becoming public, saying that she had done nothing wrong and that Stephens Inc. owed her money.[12] Shortly thereafter, in November 1987, Markle killed his family—his wife Christine (age 45) and daughters Amy (age 13) and Suzanne (age 9)—and then himself.[3] He left a note taking responsibility for his crimes and a long, bitter letter to his mother.[1] The letter contained the following: "Initially you said, 'well, we can work it out' but NO, you refused… You called me a liar, a cheat, a criminal, a bum. You said I have ruined your life… You were never around much when I needed you, so now I and my whole family are dead—so you can have the money… 'Night, Mother."[13]

In 1986, McCambridge had played the mother of a child who plans to commit suicide in an Arkansas Repertory Theatre production of 'night, Mother.[12]


For her contributions to television and the motion picture industry, Mercedes McCambridge has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 1722 Vine Street, and one for television at 6243 Hollywood Boulevard.


Year Title Role Notes
1949 All the King's Men Sadie Burke Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress
1951 Inside Straight Ada Stritch
1951 The Scarf Connie Carter
1951 Lightning Strikes Twice Liza McStringer
1951 Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Awards Herself short subject
1954 Johnny Guitar Emma Small
1956 Giant Luz Benedict Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1957 A Farewell to Arms Miss Van Campen
1957 Wagon Train Emily Rossiter Episode: "The Emily Rossiter Story"
1958 Touch of Evil Gang leader Uncredited
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer Mrs. Grace Holly
1960 Rawhide Mrs Martha Mushgrove S3:E9, "Incident of the Captive"
1960 Rawhide Mrs Miller Episode: "Incident of the Curious Street"
1959 Riverboat Jessie Quinn Episode: "Jessie Quinn"
1960 Cimarron Mrs. Sarah Wyatt
1961 Angel Baby Sarah Strand
1962 Rawhide Ada Randolph Episode: "The Greedy Town"
1962 Bonanza Deborah Banning Episode: "The Lady from Baltimore"
1963 The Dakotas Jay French Episode: "Trouble at French Creek"
1965 Run Home Slow Nell Hagen
1965 Rawhide Ma Gufler Episode: "Hostage for Hanging"
1966 Lost in Space Sybilla Episode: "The Space Croppers"
1968 The Counterfeit Killer Frances
1968 Bewitched Carlotta Episode: "Darrin Gone! and Forgotten?"
1969 99 Women Thelma Diaz
1969 Justine Madame Dusbois
1970 Bonanza Matilda Curtis Episode: "The Law and Billy Burgess"
1971 Gunsmoke Rubilee Mather Episode: "The Lost"
1971 The Last Generation (archive footage)
1973 The President's Plane Is Missing Hester Madigan TV movie
1973 Sixteen Ma Irtley
1973 The Exorcist Pazuzu Voice
1975 Who Is the Black Dahlia? Grandmother TV movie
1977 Thieves Street Lady
1978 Charlie's Angels Norma Episode: "Angels in Springtime"
1978 Flying High Claire Episode: "In the Still of the Night"
1979 The Concorde ... Airport '79 Nelli
1979 The Sacketts Ma Sackett TV movie
1981 Magnum, P.I. Agatha Kimball Episode: "Don't Say Goodbye"
1983 Echoes Lillian Gerben
1986 Amazing Stories Miss Lestrange Voice, Episode: "Family Dog"
1988 Cagney & Lacey Sister Elizabeth Episode: "Land of the Free"
2018 The Other Side of the Wind Maggie Previously unreleased (final film role)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Lackmann, Ronald W. (2005). Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland. pp. 7–10. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2.
  2. ^ "Mercedes McCambridge, 87, Actress Known for Strong Roles". The New York Times. March 18, 2004. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Exorcist actress Mercedes McCambridge dies at 85". USA Today. March 17, 2004. Archived from the original on December 1, 2005. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  4. ^ H.W. Wilson Company (1965). "Current Biography Yearbook". Current Biography Yearbook: Annual Cumulation. H. W. Wilson Co. ISSN 0084-9499. Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  5. ^ "(Photo caption)". The Lincoln Star. July 6, 1941. p. 36. Archived from the original on July 11, 2015. Retrieved July 10, 2015 – via Open access icon
  6. ^ Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-09-15.
  7. ^ "Dead Walk Alone On Inner Sanctum". Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg Telegraph. November 30, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 12, 2015 – via Open access icon
  8. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2003). Radio Program Openings and Closings, 1931–1972. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7864-4925-5. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  9. ^ Cox, Jim (2005). The A to Z of American Radio Soap Operas. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-8108-6833-5. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  10. ^ Smith, Mark Chalon (1991-02-28). "Film : 'Johnny Guitar' Pulls Some Kinky Strings". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  11. ^ Friedkin, William (2013). The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-006177512-3. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "15 Years Later, Murder-Suicide Fades From View (Fifth Monday)". Arkansas Business. Retrieved 2018-02-24.
  13. ^ Jones, Janie (July 24, 2018). "Murder Mystery: The Mask of Mercy".

Further reading