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Lois Nettleton, at 80; actress whose career spanned 6 decades

Lois Nettleton, in the New York staging of 'How to Build a Better Tulip.' Lois Nettleton, in the New York staging of "How to Build a Better Tulip." (Carol Rosegg file/2004)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mary Rourke
Los Angeles Times / January 24, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Lois Nettleton, an actress who went from Broadway plays to roles in movies and on popular television series, died Friday of complications from lung cancer at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital. She was 80.

Miss Nettleton made her Broadway debut in a 1949 production of "The Biggest Thief in Town." She appeared in more than a dozen other plays, on and off Broadway, over the next decade. As Blanche DuBois in a 1973 production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, Miss Nettleton avoided the typical portrayal of a faded beauty turned boozy manipulator.

"This is a Blanche . . . who has been to hell and back and yet retains her innocence," wrote critic Clive Barnes in a review for The New York Times. "Miss Nettleton plays Blanche as a woman of nearly unshatterable courage."

Miss Nettleton said that theater was her first love but that she moved to Los Angeles to be closer to her ailing mother. In Hollywood, starting in the 1950s, she was a guest actress on dozens of leading television series.

She had roles on "Kraft Television Theatre" and "Studio One" in the 1950s, on "Bonanza," "The Twilight Zone," and "The Fugitive" in the 1960s, and on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the '70s, among other series. For two years in the late 1980s, she was a regular on the police drama "In the Heat of the Night."

For three years in the 1990s she had a role on the soap opera "General Hospital."

She won Emmy Awards for daytime television for her role as suffragette Susan B. Anthony in "The American Woman: Portraits in Courage" in 1976 and her performance in an episode of the religious program "Insight" in 1983.

She made her movie debut in 1962 in "Period of Adjustment," based on a play by Williams about two couples in rocky marriages. She also had roles in "Mail Order Bride," "The Man in the Glass Booth," and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

"It takes courage to be . . . a gypsy actor like I am," Miss Nettleton said in 1985, adding that she liked playing a variety of roles. "I'm a character actress. I always wanted to be as different in everything as possible."

A native of Oak Park, Ill., Miss Nettleton was named Miss Chicago when she was 21. She married Jean Shepherd, the writer and radio personality, in 1960. Their marriage ended in divorce. She had no immediate survivors.

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