Actress Mildred Joanne Smith died at the age of 94. The Broadway vet portrayed Sidney Poitier’s wife in his film debut No Way Out, however, her rising film career was cut short by a tragic plane crash.
Smith had a rather short but well received and admired career in Broadway and the single film in which she appeared. Some of the Broadway shows in which Mildred Joanne Smith appeared included Men to the Seas, Mamba’s Daughters, and Beggar’s Holiday. Though the shows didn’t run for a long time, critics always had a word of praise for the actress.
After Broadway, she got her first and unfortunately only break in films. She starred as the wife of Sidney Poitier in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s No Way Out. Her character may not have been central to the plot, but she very convincingly played the wife of an African-American doctor Luther, played by Poitier. Smith portrayed Cora Brooks, who comforts her young husband who has just begun practicing and is immediately confronted by a racist patient. The patient, Ray Biddle, played by versatile actor Richard Widmark, is strongly inclined to give the young doctor a hard time solely because of the latter’s ethnicity and causes all sorts of trouble.
The film was successfully completed and was well received, allowing Mildred Joanne Smith to cross over into the world of films. However, fate had other plans, and within two years of her debut on the silver screen, Smith met with an airplane accident. The native of Struthers, Ohio, was severely injured when the plane she was traveling in crashed, reported the Daily Mail. Smith was among 34 passengers who survived the plane crash, which would have been even more devastating had the pilot not bravely steered the DC6 plane away from an orphanage.
Though Mildred Joanne Smith survived, she suffered multiple injuries that included a broken back and ribs, halting her acting career. But a resilient Smith chose to work on in the field of performing arts, albeit as a singer. Smith even went on to serve as a women’s editor for the black lifestyle publication Our World magazine and as a teacher at Eastview Junior High School in White Plains, New York, reported the Hollywood Reporter.
While printing about the accident, Jet magazine had perhaps tragically but very aptly titled the story about the short acting career of Mildred Joanne Smith, “The Magnificent Failure: She Won Fame but Never Quite Could Attain Stardom.”
[Image Credit | Everett Collection]