Mercedes McCambridge

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Mercedes McCambridge
Mercedes McCambridge - 1950.jpg
McCambridge in All the King's Men (1949)
BornCarlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge
(1916-03-16)March 16, 1916
Joliet, Illinois, U.S.
DiedMarch 2, 2004(2004-03-02) (aged 87)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Years active1949–92
Spouse(s)William Fifield (m. 1939–46)
Fletcher Markle (m. 1950–62)
1 child John Markle
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Mercedes McCambridge
Mercedes McCambridge - 1950.jpg
McCambridge in All the King's Men (1949)
BornCarlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge
(1916-03-16)March 16, 1916
Joliet, Illinois, U.S.
DiedMarch 2, 2004(2004-03-02) (aged 87)
La Jolla, California, U.S.
Years active1949–92
Spouse(s)William Fifield (m. 1939–46)
Fletcher Markle (m. 1950–62)
1 child John Markle

Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge[1] (March 16, 1916 – March 2, 2004) was an American actress of radio, stage, film, and television. Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress."[2] She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for All the King's Men (1949) and was nominated in the same category for Giant (1956). She also provided the voice of Pazuzu in The Exorcist (1973).

Early life[edit]

McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Irish American Roman Catholic parents Marie (née Mahaffry) and John Patrick McCambridge, a farmer.[1][3][4][5] She graduated from Mundelein College in Chicago before embarking on a career.



She began her career as a radio actor during the 1930s while also performing on Broadway and continued through the 40s and 50s. Her radio work in this period included:

She frequently did feature roles on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and was an original cast member on The Guiding Light (before the Bauers took over as the central characters). She also starred in her own show, Defense Attorney (1951–52), as Martha Ellis Bryant.[citation needed]


Her Hollywood break came when she was cast opposite Broderick Crawford in All the King's Men (1949). McCambridge won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role, while the film won Best Picture for that year. McCambridge also won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress and New Star of the Year - Actress for her performance.

In 1954, the actress co-starred with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in the offbeat western drama, Johnny Guitar, now regarded as a cult classic. McCambridge and Hayden publicly declared their dislike of Crawford, with McCambridge labeling the film's star "a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady."[4]

McCambridge played the supporting role of 'Luz' in the George Stevens classic Giant (1956), which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. She was nominated for another Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress but lost to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind. In 1959, McCambridge appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer.

McCambridge provided the dubbed voice of the demonically possessed girl in The Exorcist, acted by Linda Blair. According to director William Friedkin, she initially requested no credit for the film—fearing it would take away from the attention of Blair's performance - but later complained about her absence of credit during the film's premiere.[6] Her dispute with Friedkin and the Warner Bros. brass over her exclusion ended when, with the help of the Screen Actors Guild, she was properly credited for her vocal work in the film.[4]

In the 1970s, she toured in a road company production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Mama, opposite John Carradine as Big Daddy. She appeared as a guest artist in college productions, such as El Centro College's 1979 The Mousetrap, in which she received top billing despite her character being murdered (by actor Jim Beaver) less than 15 minutes into the play.

El Centro brought her back the following year in the title role of The Madwoman of Chaillot. She also starred with longtime character actor Lyle Talbot (of ABC's The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet) in the 1970 production of Come Back, Little Sheba in the University of North Alabama Summer Theatre Productions. In the mid-1970s, McCambridge briefly took a position as director of Livingrin, a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center for alcoholics. She was at the same time putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be released autobiography, The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (Times Books, 1981), ISBN 0-8129-0945-3.

Personal life[edit]

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939 when she was 23 years old.[4] The couple had a son, John Lawrence Fifield, born in December, 1941. The couple divorced in 1946 after seven years of marriage.

In 1950, when she was 34 years old, McCambridge married Canadian Fletcher Markle, an actor/producer/director who directed McCambridge in productions on Ford Theater and Studio One. Her son, John, later took Markle's name, thereafter being known as John Markle. During the marriage and afterward, McCambridge battled alcoholism, often being hospitalized after episodes of heavy drinking. She and Markle divorced in 1962, after twelve years of marriage. In 1969, after years with Alcoholics Anonymous, she achieved sobriety.[4]

McCambridge's son, John Markle, a UCLA graduate, had a Ph.D. in Economics.[7] He became a futures trader at Stephens and Company, but after a meteoric rise through the company's ranks, things began to unravel in the fall of 1987 when it was discovered he was engaging in fraud - essentially by charging all his losing trades to Stephens, while depositing the revenue from winning trades in a trust account in McCambridge's name. (Markle was later shown to have forged his mother's signature in opening this account.)[citation needed]

Markle was put on temporary leave, then fired from his position as a futures trader at Stephens and Company for mishandling funds. McCambridge refused to co-operate with Markle and the company in instituting a repayment scheme that would have kept the matter from becoming public. Shortly thereafter, in November 1987, Markle killed his family—his wife Christine and daughters Amy (age 13) and Suzanne (age 9) - and then himself in a murder/suicide.[4] He left both a note taking responsibility for his crimes, and a long, bitter letter to his mother.[7] A $5 million lawsuit was filed against Markle's estate and McCambridge claiming fraud and misappropriation of funds. Although some of the mishandled funds had been handled under McCambridge's name through Markle's power of attorney, she herself was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.[4]

She was a staunch outspoken liberal Democrat who campaigned for Adlai Stevenson.[8]


McCambridge died on March 2, 2004, in La Jolla in San Diego, California, of natural causes, two weeks shy of her 88th birthday.[4]

For her contribution to television and motion picture industry, Mercedes McCambridge has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures at 1722 Vine Street, and one for television at 6243 Hollywood Boulevard.


1949All the King's MenSadie BurkeAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress
1951Inside StraightAda Stritch
1951The ScarfConnie Carter
1951Lightning Strikes TwiceLiza McStringer
1951Screen Snapshots: Hollywood AwardsHerselfshort subject
1954Johnny GuitarEmma Small
1956GiantLuz BenedictNominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1957A Farewell to ArmsMiss Van Campen
1957Wagon TrainEmily RossiterEpisode: "The Emily Rossiter Story"
1958Touch of EvilGang leaderUncredited
1959Suddenly, Last SummerMrs. Grace Holly
1960RawhideMrs Martha MusgraveEpisode: "Incident of the Captive"
1960RawhideMrs MillerEpisode: "Incident of the Curious Street"
1959RiverboatJessie QuinnEpisode also entitled "Jessie Quinn" (NBC-TV)
1960CimarronMrs. Sarah Wyatt
1961Angel BabySarah Strand
1962RawhideAda RandolphEpisode: "The Greedy Town"
1962BonanzaDeborah BanningEpisode: "Lady From Baltimore"
1963The DakotasJay FrenchEpisode: "Trouble at French Creek" (ABC-TV)
1965Run Home SlowNell Hagen
1966Lost in SpaceCybillaEpisode: "The Space Croppers"
1968The Counterfeit KillerFrances
196999 WomenThelma D
1969JustineMadame Dusbois
1971The Last GenerationArchive footage
1972The Other Side of the WindMaggieUnreleased
1973SixteenMa Irtley
1973The President's Plane is MissingHester Madigan
1973The ExorcistPazuzuVoice only
1975Who Is The Black Dahlia?
1977ThievesStreet Lady
1978Charlie's AngelsNormaEpisode: "Angels in Springtime"
1979The Concorde ... Airport '79Nelli
1981Magnum, P.I.Agatha KimballEpisode: "Don't Say Goodbye"
1983EchoesLillian Gerben
1986Amazing StoriesMiss Lestrange (Voice)Episode: "Family Dog"


  1. ^ a b Lackmann, Ronald W. (2005). Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland. pp. 7–10. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2. 
  2. ^ "Mercedes McCambridge, 87, Actress Known for Strong Roles". The New York Times ( March 18, 2004. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  3. ^ "Mercedes McCambridge Biography (1918-)". Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Exorcist actress Mercedes McCambridge dies at 85". USA Today. March 17, 2004. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  5. ^ H.W. Wilson Company (1965). Current Biography Yearbook. H. W. Wilson Co. ISSN 0084-9499. Retrieved 2014-10-15. 
  6. ^ Friedkin, William (2013). The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-006177512-3. Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  7. ^ a b Lackmann, Ronald W. Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland & Company. 2005. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2.
  8. ^

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