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Mercedes McCambridge
File:Mercedes McCambridge - 1950.jpg
McCambridge in All the King's Men (1949)
Carlotta 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 active1949–2004
William Fifield
(m. 1939⁠–⁠1946)

Fletcher Markle
(m. 1950⁠–⁠1962)
ChildrenJohn Lawrence Fifield Markle (1941-1987) (suicide)[1]

Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge[2] (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."[3] 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 'The Demon' in The Exorcist (1973).

Early life[]

McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Irish American Roman Catholic parents Marie (née Mahaffry) and John Patrick McCambridge, a farmer.[2][4][5][6] 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. In 1941, she played Judy's girl friend in A Date with Judy.[7] She had the title role in Defense Attorney, a crime drama broadcast on ABC in 1951-52.[8] Her other work on radio included:

  • episodes of Lights Out (including "It Happened", 05/11/38; "Execution", 04/27/43 and "The Word", 09/14/43)
  • episodes of Inner Sanctum (including "Blood of Cain", 01/29/46, "Death's Old Sweet Song", 11/04/46, "But the Dead Walk Alone" (December 2, 1946[9]). and "'Til Death Do Us Part", 10/27/47)
  • episodes of the Bulldog Drummond radio series
  • episodes of Gang Busters
  • episodes of Murder at Midnight (including "The Man with the Black Beard", 05/08/50)
  • episodes of Studio One (including "Anthony Adverse", 10/14/47; "Kitty Foyle", 11/04/47 and "The Thirty-Nine Steps", 03/28/48)
  • episodes of Screen Directors Playhouse (including "Spellbound", 01/25/51 and "Only Yesterday", 07/05/51)
  • episodes of Ford Theater (including "The Horn Blows at Midnight", 03/04/49)
  • "Rosemary Levy" on Abie's Irish Rose
  • "Peggy King Martinson" on This is Nora Drake (1948)
  • various characters on the radio series I Love A Mystery in both its West Coast and East Coast incarnations (most notably as "The Stewardess" and "Charity Martin" in The Thing That Cries in the Night, "Nasha" and "Laura" in Bury Your Dead, Arizona, "Sunny Richards" in both The Million Dollar Curse and The Temple of Vampires and "Jack 'Jacqueline' Dempsey Ross" in The Battle of the Century)

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 on ABC 1951–52, as Martha Ellis Bryan.[10]

From June 22, 1953, to March 5, 1954, McCambridge starred in the soap opera Family Skeleton on CBS.[11]


She played Katherine Wells in Wire Service - an American drama series aired on ABC from 1956-7, produced by Desilu productions. The series starred Mercedes McCambridge, George Brent and Dane Clark as reporters for the fictional Trans Globe wire service.


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."[5]

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 Pazuzu, the demon possessing the young girl Regan (acted by Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. To sound as disturbing as possible, McCambridge insisted on swallowing raw eggs, chain smoking and drinking whiskey to make her voice harsh and her performance aggressive. Director William Friedkin also arranged for her to be bound to a chair during recordings, so that the demon seemed to be struggling against its restraints. According to 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.[12] 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.[5]

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[]

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939 when she was 23 years old.[5] 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.[5]

McCambridge's son, John Markle, a UCLA graduate, had a Ph.D. in Economics.[13] 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.[5] He left both a note taking responsibility for his crimes, and a long, bitter letter to his mother.[13] 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.[5]

She was a staunch outspoken liberal Democrat who campaigned for Adlai Stevenson.[14]


McCambridge died on March 2, 2004, in La Jolla in San Diego, California, of natural causes, two weeks before her 88th birthday.[5]

For her contributions 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.


Year Title Role Notes
1949 All the King's Men Sadie Burke Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress
1951 Inside Straight Ada Stritch
1951 The Scarf Connie Carter
1951 Lightning Strikes Twice Liza McStringer
1951 Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Awards Herself short subject
1954 Johnny Guitar Emma Small
1956 Giant Luz Benedict Nominated — Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1957 A Farewell to Arms Miss Van Campen
1957 Wagon Train Emily Rossiter Episode: "The Emily Rossiter Story"
1958 Touch of Evil Gang leader Uncredited
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer Mrs. Grace Holly
1960 Rawhide Mrs Martha Musgrave Episode: "Incident of the Captive"
1960 Rawhide Mrs Miller Episode: "Incident of the Curious Street"
1959 Riverboat Jessie Quinn Episode also entitled "Jessie Quinn" (NBC-TV)
1960 Cimarron Mrs. Sarah Wyatt
1961 Angel Baby Sarah Strand
1962 Rawhide Ada Randolph Episode: "The Greedy Town"
1962 Bonanza Deborah Banning Episode: "Lady From Baltimore"
1963 The Dakotas Jay French Episode: "Trouble at French Creek" (ABC-TV)
1965 Run Home Slow Nell Hagen
1966 Lost in Space Cybilla Episode: "The Space Croppers"
1968 The Counterfeit Killer Frances
1968 Bewitched Carlotta
1969 99 Women Thelma Diaz
1969 Justine Madame Dusbois
1971 Gunsmoke Rubilee Mather Episode: " The Lost "
1971 The Last Generation Archive footage
1972 The Other Side of the Wind Maggie Unreleased
1973 Sixteen Ma Irtley
1973 The President's Plane is Missing Hester Madigan
1973 The Exorcist Pazuzu Voice only
1975 Who Is The Black Dahlia?
1977 Thieves Street Lady
1978 Charlie's Angels Norma Episode: "Angels in Springtime"
1979 The Concorde ... Airport '79 Nelli
1981 Magnum, P.I. Agatha Kimball Episode: "Don't Say Goodbye"
1983 Echoes Lillian Gerben
1986 Amazing Stories Miss Lestrange (Voice) Episode: "Family Dog"

See also[]

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  2. 2.0 2.1 Lackmann, Ronald W. (2005). Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland. pp. 7–10. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2.
  3. "Mercedes McCambridge, 87, Actress Known for Strong Roles". The New York Times. March 18, 2004. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  4. "Mercedes McCambridge Biography (1918-)". Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 "The Exorcist actress Mercedes McCambridge dies at 85". USA Today. March 17, 2004. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  6. H.W. Wilson Company (1965). Current Biography Yearbook. H. W. Wilson Co. ISSN 0084-9499. Retrieved 2014-10-15.
  7. "(photo caption)". The Lincoln Star. July 6, 1941. p. 36. Retrieved July 10, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  8. Dunning, John. (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. P. 196.
  9. "Dead Walk Alone On Inner Sanctum". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 30, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 12, 2015 – via open access publication – free to read
  10. Terrace, Vincent (2003). Radio Program Openings and Closings, 1931-1972. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-7864-4925-5. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  11. Cox, Jim (2005). The A to Z of American Radio Soap Operas. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 78–79. ISBN 978-0-8108-6833-5. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  12. Friedkin, William (2013). The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-006177512-3. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Lackmann, Ronald W. Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland & Company. 2005. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2.

Further reading[]

  • Lackmann, Ronald W. Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland & Company. 2005. ISBN 0-7864-1979-2.
  • McCambridge, Mercedes. The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography. Times Books, 1981. ISBN 0-8129-0945-3.
  • Terrace, Vincent. Radio Programs, 1924–1984. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9.

External links[]

Template:AcademyAwardBestSupportingActress 1941-1960

Template:Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year Actress