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BRUCE DETTMAN DOCUMENTS
Little could gifted character actress Virginia Christine have foreseen that to many admirers of her show business career -- which spanned decades of impressive film and television credits -- she would best be remembered for two roles, one as a television pitch person for a coffee company and the other as a five thousand year-old Egyptian princess sought after by a murderous mummy.
The coffee company in question was Folgers. For some twenty years and two hundred odd commercials she appeared as the fictional and kitchen-bound Mrs. Olson proclaiming the merits of the brand. The aforementioned Egyptian princess, named Ananka, figured in the last of the Universal mummy films, The Mummy’s Curse co-starring Lon Chaney Junior as the lethal Kharis. For the role the attractive blonde donned a black wig (she loved it and thought it made her appear quite glamorous) and in a scene depicting her resurrection in a dried up swamp, a face marinated in mud. She was the best thing about this rather predictable swan song for the bandaged one.
In addition to her film appearances she did a great deal of TV, one of her early roles being that of a most duplicitous lady in league with her equally crooked husband (played by another great character actor, Frank Ferguson) on a second year episode of the Adventures of Superman titled “The Lady in Black”. There wasn’t much doubt about her being the true culprit even though for a good part of her on-screen time she wore a concealing veil and talked with an accent you couldn’t have cut with a chainsaw. Superman uncovers her true identity with a dose of super breath. Hope he didn’t have garlic for lunch.
Ms. Christine was born Virginia Craft on March 10, 1917 in Stanton, Iowa, a largely Swedish community. Her mother was a local talent, a singer who encouraged Virginia to study music which she did along with acting but in the end it was the acting bug that truly bit her. She subsequently went on to win the coveted National Forensic League Award and, following the death of her father, relocated to Southern California with her mother and her new stepfather, a Lutheran minister. Attending U.C.L.A she studied piano and voice and later landed a role in the popular radio series Dear John.
About this time, after some early and promising stage roles, she also met character actor and future husband Fritz Feld who in 1942 would direct her in a stage production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler for which she received excellent reviews. This led to a contract with Warner Brothers -- she turned down a similar offer from Fox-- as one of the studio’s up-and-coming contract players.
However, despite being featured in a number of Warner efforts such as Truck Busters (her first film made in 1943), Edge of Darkness (where she somewhat prophetically portrayed a character named Miss Olson), and Action in the North Atlantic, she felt her career at Warners had stalled and opted to begin freelancing at other studios including MGM, Republic and Universal.
Her film appearances -- mirroring her exceptional acting range -- can be found in just about every motion picture genre in existence, from serious drama to comedy, western and even science fiction. Her movies include Mission To Moscow, Counter Attack, The Killers -- she auditioned for the femme fatale role but Ava Gardner won out -- The Gangster, The Invisible Wall, Women In The Night, Cover Up, Special Agent, Cyrano De Bergerac, Woman They Almost Lynched, Not As A Stranger, Good Morning, Miss Dove, The Cobweb, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Killer Is Loose, Nightmare, Three Brave Men, The Spirit of St. Louis, Johnny Tremain, Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, Daughter of the Mind, Woman of the Year, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?, Rage to Live, Flaming Star, The Prize, Judgment at Nuremberg, and High Noon, the latter being one of seven occasions she worked with director/producer Stanley Kramer.
Along with films came an incredible lot of TV work. She moved effortless from one medium to the other. Small screen performances could be found on Racket Squad, Abbott and Costello, Four Star Theatre, Dragnet, The Whistler, Stage 7, Alfred Hitchcock, The Crusader, Star and the Story, Private Secretary, Wire Service, The Lone Ranger, Science-Fiction Theatre, Jim Bowie, Casey Jones, Father Knows Best, The Restless Gun, Whirlybirds, Mike Hammer, The Millionaire, The Thin Man, Peter Gunn, Zane Grey Theatre, Buckskin, Track Down, Wyatt Earp, Rescue 8, The Donna Reed Show, Steve Canyon, The Lawless Years, State Trooper, Wanted Dead or Alive, How To Marry A Millionaire, G.E. Theatre, The Twilight Zone, The Man From UNCLE, Riverboat, Happy, Thriller, The Loretta Young Show, Maverick, Temple Houston, The Deputy, The Rifleman, Mr. Ed, Rawhide, The New Breed, The Untouchables, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Mr. Novak, Ben Casey, Hazel, Bonanza, The Fugitive, Wagon Train, Larado, The Big Valley, Felony Squad, The Virginian, The Invaders, The F.B.I., Daniel Boone, Nanny and the Professor, Ironside, and Kojak. She was also a regular on the expanded version of Tales of Wells Fargo. Her favorite role of all time was Mary Queen of Scots on an episode of You Are There.
In later interviews the good-natured actress, richly endowed with much humor and a keen and forgiving perspective of her career, would wax philosophically when quizzed about events or choices she had made. “That was one of my life experiences,” she would say with no regrets. Even her long affiliation and identification with the TV pitchwoman was nothing in her eyes to be ashamed of or to denigrate.
“Don’t knock Mrs. Olson,” she would emphasize.
That role, she would explain, had brought great financial stability and security to her. It had allowed her husband and her to later enjoy rich and fulfilling retirements.
When work slowed down for her she enjoyed gardening, travel, baking bread and sewing.
For a while she hosted a local talk show in Palm Springs and was later made honorary mayor of Brentwood, California where she passed away July 24, 1996.
She would always say in interviews that she was most grateful being able to make a living at what she most enjoyed doing. And we were grateful watching her do just this.
Posted July 15, 2013
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