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R.I.P. Carol Lynley, from The Poseidon Adventure and Bunny Lake Is Missing

Photo: Universal Television/Film Favorites (Getty Images)

Carol Lynley has died. An actress and former model best known to audiences for high-profile turns in films like The Poseidon Adventure, Return To Peyton Place, and—perhaps most memorably—Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake Is Missing, Lynley was a prolific performer with a knack for elevating even the most thinly written of roles. She was 77.

Originally a child model, Lynley made the move into acting in the mid-’50s, making her first splash with her role in the Broadway—and later Hollywood—versions of James Leo Herlihy’s Blue Denim. Still only 16, Lynley took on the role of Janet, a young woman seeking an abortion in 1950s America—controversial stuff at the time, the sort of material that courted anger from the pulpits, and an abrupt ending change from the studio, which dictated that settling down and raising the kid was more the sort of happy ending the Hayes Code would allow. It wasn’t the last time Lynley would boldly ignore conventional naysaysers, either; she took on the starring role of Jean Harlow in Alex Segal’s biopic about the troubled actress, and posed nude for Playboy in 1965.

That year also saw her embrace what was quite possibly her finest role, though, as the increasingly gas-lit woman at the heart of Preminger’s Bunny Lake. As a young mother surrounded on all sides by men who belittle, presume, hit on, ignore, or just simply dismiss her “claims” about her missing daughter, Lynley’s Ann presents a uniquely awful vision of the things that can happen to a horror protagonist—or just a woman, living in a world of men. Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward are the big names in the credits, but it’s in the mounting, dead-eyed frustration in Lynley’s eyes that the film finds its realest expression of the unique suffering of simply not being believed.

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Lynley worked extensively through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, her most-seen role—by a wide margin—being her turn as ship’s crooner Nonnie in Ronald Neame’s The Poseidon Adventure. The waterlogged blockbuster was a famously grueling shoot, requiring Lynley and her castmates to swim, climb, and just generally suffer throughout its filming. (Hell, Lynley didn’t even get to sing her character’s big musical number; “The Morning After” was dubbed over by singer Renee Armand.) And yet Lynley never had an unkind word for anyone involved, appearing to relish her role in one of the last great disaster pictures of the 1970s.

Lynley continued to work through the early 2000s, although her pace slowed considerably as the years advanced. Per Variety, she died from a heart attack earlier this week. 

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