Lola Albright, an alluring actress who was perhaps best known for her role as a sultry nightclub singer in the noirish television detective series “Peter Gunn,” died March 23 in Los Angeles. She was 92.
Her death was first reported by the Akron Beacon-Journal in her Ohio hometown. The cause was not disclosed.
Albright made her screen debut in the late 1940s and appeared in numerous westerns and other B movies before being cast in “Peter Gunn,” an adult drama that aired from 1958 to 1961 and has become a cult classic.
The series, created by director Blake Edwards, starred Craig Stevens in the title role as a debonair detective, with Albright playing his often-stood-up girlfriend, Edie Hart. She crooned a song in each episode at a shabby-chic jazz club called Mother’s, which never seemed to close. (In the show’s final season, Edie had her own club.)
“There she is, Lola Albright, slinking her way onto the screen, frequently in song, at the gritty club called Mother’s,” critic Diane Werts wrote in 2012 for the website TVWorthWatching.com. “She’s a sexy chanteuse, but she’s more - Gunn’s girlfriend, and his rock, and a frisky partner in play.”
Albright was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Peter Gunn,” which had a striking theme song that won two Grammy Awards for its composer, Henry Mancini. Albright’s languorous singing and beauty contributed to the moody aura of “Peter Gunn,” which ran for 114 episodes on NBC and later ABC.
“She was perfect casting for that role because she had an off-the-cuff kind of jazz delivery that was very hard to find,” Mancini said in 1992. “Just enough to believe that she’d be singing in that club and that she shouldn’t be on Broadway or doing movies.”
Beyond the formulaic westerns and science fiction movies, Albright was often cast as a femme fatale, including as a lusty married woman pursuing Kirk Douglas in the 1949 boxing movie “Champion.” She played a beauty pageant contestant with a driven mother in “Beauty on Parade” (1950). In 1955, she appeared as one of Frank Sinatra’s many love interests in “The Tender Trap.”
Albright began acting in television during the medium’s infancy and had a recurring role in “The Bob Cummings Show” in the 1950s before landing her part in “Peter Gunn.”
One of the few times she was cast in the leading role came in 1961 with “A Cold Wind in August,” an edgy drama directed by Alexander Singer.
Albright portrayed an aging stripper, Iris Hartford, who seduces a teenage boy.
“What’s your hurry?” she tells the boy, played by Scott Marlowe. “You got a heavy date? You gotta go out and hustle hubcaps?”
A New York Times critic dismissed the film as exploitation, saying the producers “have confused art with blatant sex.” But a New York Herald Tribune reviewer noted that “there is much to commend this oddly compelling independent production, not the least of which is a striking performance by Lola Albright.”
The role created friction in her marriage, Albright said in a 1961 interview, but added: “I couldn’t turn it down - it was a showcase role, the kind that comes around once in a lifetime and a chance to show what I really can do.”
Lois Jean Albright was born July 20, 1924, in Akron. Her parents were gospel singers, and she studied music throughout her childhood.
Before she turned 20, she had been a receptionist at a Cleveland radio station, married an announcer and moved to Chicago. While she was working as a model, a photographer suggested that Albright give Hollywood a try.
She had dozens of film and TV credits in the 1950s and 1960s, ranging from “The Monolith Monsters” to “Gunsmoke,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” to “Burke’s Law” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” to the Elvis Presley boxing movie “Kid Galahad.”
She released two albums as a singer, “Lola Wants You” (1957) and “Dreamsville” (1959), both with music conducted by Mancini.
In 1966, she had a role as Tuesday Weld’s suicidal mother in the oddball serio-comedy “Lord Love a Duck,” for which she won a best-acting award at the Berlin Film Festival. Albright’s final film appearance came in 1968, when she played David Niven’s wife in the generation-gap farce “The Impossible Years.”
Her marriages to Warren Dean, actor Jack Carson and musician and restaurant owner Bill Chadney ended in divorce.
“I was blinded by her beauty,” Carson once said, “and realized we both had made a mistake.”
Survivors include a stepdaughter from her third marriage.
Albright had occasional TV roles into the mid-1980s, then retired to a life of semi-seclusion.
Discussing her daring role in “A Cold Wind in August,” she said in 1961, “Some people come up to me and say, ’Lola, you shouldn’t play that kind of part - it isn’t you.’ Well, I count to 10, bite my tongue and then tell them that I’m an actress: I don’t want to play myself.”