Obituary: Meg Mundy (1915-2016)
January 29, 2016
Meg Mundy, an actress with extensive film and theater credits who earned her greatest fame late in her career as a soap opera villainess, died on January 12 in an assisted living facility in the Bronx, according to her only son, Sotos Yannopoulos. Mundy’s death came eight days after her 101st birthday.
A multi-talented beauty from a musical family, London-born Mundy was a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and a chorus girl in several Broadway shows in the late thirties. When Mundy was 19, the legendary modeling agent John Robert Powers told her that she was no beauty, “but I bet you photograph well.” Regal, almost icy – “in looks, she suggests a cross between Jeanne Eagels and Jessica Tandy (which isn’t bad looking),” wrote George Jean Nathan – Mundy had the kind of classy air that was perfect for formalwear and fashion magazines. She became one of Manhattan’s most busiest models during the forties – mainly for Vogue, although Look put Mundy and Lisa Fonssagrives, aligned in a Persona-esque pose, on its January 6, 1948 cover. Steichen, Horst, Irving Penn, and Richard Avedon all photographed her.
Mundy’s second husband (out of four) was Marc Daniels, who after their divorce would move to Hollywood and direct for I Love Lucy and Star Trek. Daniels taught returning veterans at the American Theatre Wing, which created a useful workshopping opportunity for his wife – the vets needed female actors to play opposite, and Mundy was a regular volunteer. In 1942, when they met, Daniels was an actor taking voice lessons from Mundy’s mother; but his influence as he turned toward teaching and directing (“Marc taught me all I know,” she told Look, in the paternalistic parlance of 1948) helped to revive Mundy’s theatrical aspirations.
After a short run in the Garson Kanin-directed How I Wonder (1947), Mundy played the title role in Sartre’s The Respectful Prostitute (1948), which started Off-Broadway and moved uptown to the Cort. Critics didn’t know what to make of the play, but Mundy got great notices: “Meg Mundy gives a performance that ranks with the best acting of the season,” wrote Brooks Atkinson. “Her Lizzie is hard but human – rasping, angry, bewildered, metallic.” Mundy’s stage career peaked with the female lead in Sidney Kingsley’s Detective Story (1949-1950); it ran for a year and a half, but Lee Grant, in a supporting role, stole the show, and the movie version replaced Mundy and her leading man, Ralph Bellamy, with Eleanor Parker and Kirk Douglas.
Amidst out-of-town theater jobs and the occasional cabaret engagement (“Miss Mundy is lovely to look at, but she seems rather out of place – sort of like Queen Mary on a roller coaster,” the New York Herald-Tribune wrote of a 1950 performance at the Blue Angel), Mundy was a go-to leading lady in live television. She acted opposite Daniels in the 1948 pilot That’s Our Sherman (as in Hiram Sherman), and he directed her in segments of CBS’s Nash Airflyte Theatre and The Ford Theatre Hour, including a 1950 version of “Little Women” in which Mundy played Jo. The latter was a family affair (Daniels’s brother, Ellis Marcus, adapted the novel) as well as an unlikely A Streetcar Named Desire reunion: Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, respectively, played Meg and Friedrich Bhaer. Daniels recalled later that Beth’s canary wouldn’t sing during rehearsals but hit its cue during the broadcast, and praised Mundy’s “miraculous quick thinking in following an emergency on the air cut” for length.
Mundy with Sidney Blackmer in Tales of Tomorrow (“The Dark Angel,” 1951) and Ray Walston (!) in Suspense (“Goodbye New York,” circa 1949)
As with any survey of a live television star’s career, there are tantalizing highlights, too many of them lost. In January 1950, she played the Barbara Stanwyck part in Sorry, Wrong Number, telecast by CBS as a one-off color test. (“Miss Mundy’s ‘neurotic’ bed is a vivid green satin job,” reported The Washington Post.) Mundy reunited with Detective Story co-stars Lee Grant for a Playwrights ’56 and Ralph Bellamy for a 1954 U.S. Steel Hour, “Fearful Decision” (which was restaged live a year later, with the same cast). Mundy played Amelia Earhart on Omnibus, and starred in The Alcoa Hour’s 1957 “colorcast” of The Animal Kingdom with Robert Preston. Few of her early television performances were filmed – in 1954, nearing forty, Mundy had a son with her third husband, opera director Dino Yannopoulos, and was reluctant to follow television’s migration to Los Angeles – but Alfred Hitchcock brought her west for “Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” an odd sort-of send-up of Rear Window that he tossed off for his anthology. In 1961, on the cusp of a long hiatus, Mundy played Dennis Hopper’s domineering mother in a memorable Naked City – conspiring with director Elliot Silverstein to push the Oedipal aspect to outrageous levels, Mundy’s interplay with Hopper was deliciously icky.
Mundy and Dayton Lummis in Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Mr. Blanchard’s Secret,” 1956)
By the sixties, Mundy was semi-retired from acting and working as a stylist and a fashion editor for Vogue and later Mademoiselle. (For a time, she also owned a boutique in Connecticut with another daytime star, The Secret Storm’s Lori March.) Then a former agent brought her back for a showy role in a soap opera: that of Mona Aldrich (later Croft) in The Doctors, a mother-in-law from hell who schemed to break up the marriage of her son, Steve (David O’Brien), one of the show’s protagonists. Soap Opera Digest called her “the Katharine Hepburn of daytime.” Mundy played the role for almost a decade, starting around 1973, but The Doctors killed her off (with Bubonic plague) shortly before it reached its finish line in 1982.
The Doctors role opened the door for some juicy movie parts – as Ryan O’Neal’s mother in Oliver’s Story and Mary Tyler Moore’s mother in Ordinary People, plus Eyes of Laura Mars, The Bell Jar, and Fatal Attraction. Back on Broadway in the eighties, she was Blythe Danner’s mother in The Philadelphia Story and played word games with Jason Robards and Elizabeth Wilson in You Can’t Take It With You. Law and Order beckoned twice, but Mundy’s swan song came in daytime – as late as 2001 (when she was eighty-five), the actress was recurring as a Hungarian matron on All My Children.
Mundy with Dennis Hopper in Naked City (“Shoes For Vinnie Winford,” 1961)