Diana Lynn was a talented actress and pianist who rose to fame in the 1940s with her roles in comedies such as The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and My Friend Irma. She was also a child prodigy who began playing the piano at age four and performed with the Los Angeles Junior Symphony Orchestra at age 12. However, her promising career and life were cut short by a stroke that claimed her life in 1971. What caused her sudden death and what legacy did she leave behind?
Early Life and Career
Diana Lynn was born Dolores Eartha Loehr on July 5, 1926, in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Louis Loehr, was an oil supply executive, and her mother, Martha Loehr, was a concert pianist. Lynn inherited her mother’s musical talent and started taking piano lessons at a young age. She made her film debut in 1939, playing the piano in They Shall Have Music. She was credited as Dolly Loehr, a shortened version of her birth name.
In 1942, she signed a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures, which changed her name to Diana Lynn. She soon became a popular starlet, appearing in films with Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Ronald Reagan, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis. She was known for her comedic timing, charm, and intelligence. She also released a few records as a solo pianist, accompanied by the Paul Weston orchestra.
Some of her notable films include:
- The Major and the Minor (1942), where she played a precocious teenager who befriended Ginger Rogers’ character.
- The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), where she played the sensible sister of Betty Hutton’s character, who got pregnant by a soldier she barely knew.
- Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), where she played writer Emily Kimbrough, who traveled to Europe with her friend Cornelia Otis Skinner, played by Gail Russell.
- My Friend Irma (1949) and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), where she played the smart and sensible roommate of Marie Wilson’s character, Irma, who was involved with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ characters.
- Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), where she played the love interest of Ronald Reagan’s character, a college professor who tried to teach a chimpanzee human values.
- The Kentuckian (1955), where she played a schoolteacher who fell in love with Burt Lancaster’s character, a frontiersman.
Personal Life and Death
Diana Lynn was married twice and had four children. Her first marriage was to architect John C. Lindsay, from 1948 to 1954. They had no children and divorced amicably. Her second marriage was to Mortimer Hall, the president of a Los Angeles radio station and the son of Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of the New York Post. They married in 1956 and had four children: Matthew, Dolly, Mary, and Margaret.
Lynn retired from acting in 1960 to focus on her family and travel. She also ran a travel agency in New York City, where she moved with her husband and children. She occasionally returned to the screen, appearing in a few TV shows and movies in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1971, she was offered a role in Play It as It Lays, a film adaptation of Joan Didion’s novel, starring Anthony Perkins. She accepted the offer and flew to Los Angeles to prepare for the filming. However, before the shooting began, she suffered a stroke and died on December 18, 1971, at the age of 45. She was cremated and her ashes were interred at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City.
Legacy and Influence
Diana Lynn was one of the most versatile and talented actresses of her generation. She was praised by critics and audiences alike for her performances in comedy, drama, and musical genres. She was also a skilled pianist who showcased her talent in several films and recordings. She was admired by her peers and co-stars, who remembered her as a warm, witty, and generous person.
Lynn’s films have been preserved and restored by various institutions, such as the Library of Congress, the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and the Academy Film Archive. Her films have also been released on DVD and streaming platforms, introducing her to new generations of fans. She has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a plaque on the Paramount Pictures lot.
Diana Lynn was a child prodigy and a Hollywood starlet who left a lasting impression on the film industry and the public. Her cause of death was a stroke that took her away too soon, but her legacy lives on through her films and music. She was a remarkable woman who had a lot to offer to the world.