Rhonda Fleming, stunning beauty of screen and stage, often times referred to as the ‘Queen of Technicolor’ for her striking red hair and green eyes, died on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 at the age of 97. A symbol of glamour and success in Hollywood’s Golden Age of filmmaking, Rhonda starred in more than forty films with some of Hollywood’s best-known actors including Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Burt Lancaster and Ronald Reagan, with whom she made four films.
Her career began by sheer happenstance. One day as she ran to school, Rhonda was discovered by renown talent agent, Henry Willson – and her self-proclaimed ‘Cinderella Story’ would take flight with an eventual 7-year contract with David O’Selznick. In spite of no professional training, Rhonda’s first top-featured role was in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, ‘Spellbound’ with Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Her portrayal of an institutionalized mental patient brought rave reviews and led her to make two more Noir films, ‘The Spiral Staircase,’ and ‘Out of the Past’ with Robert Mitchum.
A tip from Hitchcock to Paramount landed Rhonda her first starring role in “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ opposite Bing Crosby. The role of Lady Alisande showcased Rhonda’s beautiful red hair, emerald green eyes, and lovely singing voice, making her the perfect choice for this Technicolor musical extravaganza.
Rhonda continued to make films throughout the 40’s and 50’s as well as guest-starring in many television shows, some of which still air on network cable channels. Her first love remained singing and she had two albums to her credit – one with 1950’s gospel singing group, ‘The Four Girls’ with Jane Russell, Connie Haines and Beryl Davis. Later, Rhonda would be invited to open the new ‘Tropicana Hotel’ in Las Vegas following Eddie Fisher – she received acclaimed reviews – columnist Jimmy Starr reported “The atomic bomb didn’t explode last night, but a new and lovely nightclub star, Rhonda Fleming, blasted her way at the Tropicana and made pretty music that was strictly big-time stuff.” Prompted by Rhonda’s successful stage performance, Columbia would persuade her to record a second album in 1958 of classic love songs simply titled ‘Rhonda.’
A faithful and devoted Christian, Rhonda always maintained that God had a higher purpose for her life. That purpose was revealed through the many positive effects she brought about through her support of many philanthropic endeavors.
In 1991, Rhonda and her late husband, Ted Mann, established, in memory of her sister, Beverly, the Rhonda Fleming Mann Clinic for Comprehensive Care for Women with Cancer at UCLA – and in 1992, she founded the Rhonda Fleming Mann Resource Center at UCLA. In 1997 she opened ‘Reflections’ – a unique retail boutique that carries wigs, head coverings, breast prostheses, etc. to aid in helping those coping with the changes in appearance brought on by cancer treatments.
Rhonda’s charitable efforts have also been in support of Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California where she established the Rhonda Fleming Carlson Inspiration Garden in 2014 – providing a place of beauty and solace for patients, families and friends.
A longtime supporter and Ambassador of Childhelp, which is dedicated to the care and treatment of victims of child abuse, Rhonda established ‘meditation rooms’ in several of their care centers, as well as building a Chapel with late husband, Ted Mann, at the Childhelp Merv Griffin Village in Beaumont, California.
In December 2002, Rhonda’s charitable endeavors facilitated the opening of the Rhonda Fleming Family Center at P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless) in Hollywood, California for the support of homeless men, women and children. Subsequently, another family center bearing Rhonda’s name opened at their Gramercy location in Los Angeles. P.A.T.H. now has many locations throughout California.
One of Rhonda’s most cherished blessings was marrying her late husband, Darol W. Carlson. Having met some 30 years earlier, it was Darol’s beautiful letter to Rhonda that brought them together after both had been widowed. Both Christians with like minds, they were happily married in May of 2003 until his passing in October 2017.
Rhonda Fleming was a movie star, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, philanthropist and humanitarian – her personal philosophy and what she deemed to be the key to a rich inner life was ‘love’ – she said, “it’s not always easy and it’s not always reciprocalâ€¦ Jesus taught us how to love and His is pure love.” Her life was mirrored in her favorite Biblical passage ‘â€¦call on me in the day of trouble; I will delivery you and you will honor me’ (Psalm 50:15) and honoring the Lord is exactly what she did throughout her lifetime.
Rhonda is survived by her son, Kent Lane, granddaughter, Kelly Harman (Morgan Harman), granddaughter, Kimberly Coleman, as well as well as great-grandchildren, Wagner Harman (Lindsay Harman), Page Harman, Linden Harman, Lane Albrecht, Cole Albrecht and two great-great grandchildren, Ronan and Kiera Harman. She is also survived by her niece, Lynne Eising (Thomas), as well as step-children, Candace Voien, Cindy Jaeger, Jill Lundstrom and Kevin Carlson.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Rhonda’s memory to: P.A.T.H., 340 N. Madison Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004-3504; Saint John’s Hospital and Health Center Foundation, 1328 22nd Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404; Childhelp, 4350 E. Camelback Rd., Ste. F250, Phoenix, AZ 85018.