Rita Gam, a glamorous starlet known for her roles in 1950s films, died on Tuesday. Rita was 88 years old.
Rita Gam’s publicist broke the news to the Hollywood Reporter, revealing that the classic screen siren died of respiratory failure at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Gam was popularly known for starring in 1950s films such as Night People, Shoot Out, Hannibal, and Klute.
Rita had her breakout role in Broadway with A Flag is Born in 1946. After seven years doing Broadway, she had her first film role in 1953’s The Thief. During her career, she also starred in numerous stage productions, which include Wit & Wisdom, Hamlet, and There’s a Girl in My Soup. Her last film role came in 1989 with Midnight. After leaving the film industry for good, Rita continued to perform on the off-Broadway stage. Before long, she became a producer for the PBS travel series World of Beauty.
The New York native became the first wife of Oscar-nominated director Sidney Lumen — who directed 12 Angry Men and Dog Day Afternoon — in 1949. They divorced after six years of marriage. A year after the divorce, Gam married Thomas Guinzberg in 1956.
Rita Gam was also known for being a close friend of actress Grace Kelly. In 1956, Rita stood as a bridesmaid in Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.
In 2002, the New York Times published a feature article in honor of Rita Gam, penning that the actress had often been hired as a contract player in Hollywood. The article made mention of how Rita’s exotic beauty made her famous, which unfortunately also led to her being typecast in film roles on a regular basis.
Rita Gam, however, had no regrets. During her 2012 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, she only had great things to say about the films she had starred in.
“They used to have stories. Today we don’t have stories as good as that,” says Rita Gam while relaxing in her New York apartment. ”Even though some of them were B pictures they were terrific — nice stories, interesting.”
Rita had a rough start in her Broadway career, having had a few rows with director Tyrone Guthrie, who used to refer to her as a “spoiled brat” and a “movie queen.” He even went so far as to criticize Gam on set for “shedding copious tears to indicate strong emotion” as well as her “suburban hand gestures,” according to NY Times.
“I had to get rid of a lot of stuff fast,” Rita said. “I learned how not to be a neurotic in one easy lesson.”
Ms. Gam redeemed herself after striking a bargain with Mr. Guthrie. “I told him, ‘if you stop calling me a movie queen, I will stop crying, and I will have this part down by opening night.’ He said, ‘It’s a deal,’ and we shook hands on it.” ‘The Black Pit'”
After that, Rita earned several stage roles at the Guthrie and even earned a part in Actors Studio in New York.
At age 40, Rita embarked on a secondary career as a celebrity journalist, which led to two books on actors and the acting profession. She published her book, Actress to Actress, in 1986, which included a chapter on her close friend and MGM roommate, Grace Kelly. Two years later, Gam published Actors: A Celebration, a book that included interviews with actors such as Jack Lemmon, Jeremy Irons, and Derek Jacobi, as a means to examine the art and craft of acting.
The Golden Globe-nominated actress was awarded the Silver Bear award for her work in No Exit at the 1962 Berlin International Film Festival.
After her death, Rita Gam is survived by her daughter, film producer Kate Guinzburg, her son, novelist Michael Guinzburg, and her granddaughters, Michelle, Olivia and Louisa.
[Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Image]