Carlotta Mercedes Agnes McCambridge, better known as Mercedes McCambridge in the show business, was an American actress who excelled in various roles in television shows, films, and theatre productions. She also had a huge impact in the radio industry and made her name as one of the greatest radio actresses of her time. In her debut film ‘All the King's Men’ as Sadie Burke, she won the Academy Award as well as the Golden Globe for the Best Supporting Actress. She then went on to play many memorable roles in films like ‘Giant’. She also voiced the character of ‘Pazuzu’, the demon, in the iconic horror film ‘The Exorcist’. McCambridge also had a distinguished career as a theatre actress. She was part of Mercury Theater and appeared in many Broadway productions. She was nominated for the Broadway's Tony Award for the Best Supporting or Featured Actress in the early 1970s.
Childhood & Early Life
Mercedes McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, on March 16, 1916, to Marie Mahaffry and John Patrick McCambridge. She grew up in a middle-class farmer’s family and attended Mundelein College in Chicago.
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Mercedes McCambridge began her acting career in the 1930s, right after her graduation. She appeared in many theatre productions and also joined Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre.
During the 1930s, McCambridge started working for the radio. In the 1940s and 1950s, McCambridge appeared in various popular radio programs, including ‘I Love A Mystery’, ‘A Date with Judy’, ‘Lights Out’, ‘Screen Directors Playhouse’, and ‘Defense Attorney’ (lead role). She also appeared in ‘CBS Radio Mystery Theater’, ‘Guiding Light’, and ‘Family Skeleton’.
In the 1970s, she was nominated at the Broadway's Tony Awards for the Best Supporting or Featured Actress for her role in ‘The Love Suicide at Schofield Barracks’.
McCambridge appeared in several films in her career which lasted for over seven decades. She made her debut on the silver screen in 1949 with a critically acclaimed role, ‘Sadie Burke’, in the American film ‘All the King's Men’.
Besides McCambridge, the film ‘All the King's Men’ featured Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Joanne Dru, and John Derek. It was directed by Robert Rossen and was based on Robert Penn Warren’s novel of the same title.
After making three film appearances, in ‘Inside Straight’ as ‘Ada Stritch’, ‘Lightning Strikes Twice’ as ‘Liza McStringer’, and ‘The Scarf’ as ‘Connie Carter’ in 1951, she delivered another memorable performance in the 1956 epic western drama film ‘Giant’ where she played the role of ‘Luz Benedict.’ It earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
After her tremendous success on the silver screen in the 1950s, McCambridge made further film appearances in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of her notable works were in films like ‘Cimarron’, ‘Angel Baby’, ‘99 Women’, ‘Justine’, and ‘Thieves’.
McCambridge was felicitated for her services with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for motion pictures at 1722 Vine Street and for television at 6243 Hollywood Boulevard.
For her role in the film ‘All the King's Men’, Mercedes McCambridge was lauded, both by the critics and the fans, for her almost flawless acting capabilities. Even though she was cast for a supporting role, she stole the show on her own. She not only won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress but also bagged the Most Promising Newcomer – Female at the Golden Globes in 1950.
She portrayed the role of ‘Luz Benedict’ in the film ‘Giant’ and was nominated at the Academy Awards for the Best Supporting Actress in 1957. The film featured Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, and Chill Wills among other actors. This was James Dean’s last film as a leading actor before he was killed in a car accident.
Family & Personal Life
Mercedes McCambridge’s first marriage with William Fifield lasted for seven years and she gave birth to their only child, John Lawrence Fifield, in 1941. The couple got divorced in 1946. Four years later, in 1950, McCambridge married Canadian actor Fletcher Markle.
During her marriage with Markle, McCambridge suffered from chronic alcoholism. After twelve years of married life, the couple obtained a divorce in 1962.
Just two weeks prior to her 88th birthday, McCambridge passed away in her residence at La Jolla in San Diego, on March 2, 2004. ‘Natural Causes’ was cited as the reason for her death in her death certificate.