Susannah York, 72, Oscar nominee for role in 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?'

Susannah York played the meticulous Alice in 1969's
Susannah York played the meticulous Alice in 1969's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" - a performance that brought her an Oscar nomination.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; 10:53 PM

Susannah York, a skilled and versatile actress of great beauty who emerged as one of the most promising stars of the 1960s in films including "Tom Jones," "Tunes of Glory" and "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" - the last of which brought her an Oscar nomination - died Jan. 15 of cancer at a hospital in London. She was 72.

Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, the English-born actress became famous initially for playing dewy ingenues but went on to demonstrate an impressive range, playing everything from Shakespearean heroines to Superman's mother from Krypton.

She became an international star in 1963 as Albert Finney's true love in the lusty comedy "Tom Jones," based on the novel by Henry Fielding. Set in the 18th century, the popular film parodied the foibles of the English aristocracy and helped Ms. York, as the virginal, sharp-witted Sophie Western, establish herself as a sought-after actress.

Several years later, in 1969, she received an Academy Award nomination for her performance as a vulnerable Hollywood hopeful in Sydney Pollack's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Based on a Horace McCoy Depression-era novella about competitors in a dance marathon, the film was a bleak allegory about American life. It starred Jane Fonda and Gig Young - both of whom were also nominated for Oscars. (Young won best actor in a supporting role that year; the award for best actress in a supporting role, which Ms. York was up for, went to Goldie Hawn for her performance in "Cactus Flower.")

Ms. York "was excellent as the English girl defiantly trying to break into sordid movies," film historian David Thomson wrote. "There is a speculative flightiness about her in that film; especially in the breakdown scene in a shower cubicle, she seemed for the first time a human animal touched to the quick."

Her blond, blue-eyed allure first captured audiences' attention in 1960 when she was cast as the irresistible daughter of Alec Guinness, playing an officer in a Scottish regiment, in the drama "Tunes of Glory."

Guinness declared her "the best thing in films since Audrey Hepburn," and moviemakers began to seek Ms. York to play young beauties.

In 1961, she was "utterly lovely" as a teenager discovering her power over men in "Loss of Innocence," wrote Washington Post film critic Richard Coe.

Two years later, New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther called Ms. York "a warm little package of passions" for her role in "Tom Jones."

She also appeared in "A Man for All Seasons" (1966) as the comely eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More, played by Paul Scofield. But she refused to be typecast.

"People do, willy-nilly, associate blue eyes and blond hair with angels," she told Nora Ephron in a 1968 interview for the New York Times. "They preconceive you. . . . Then, after they've got you, they begin to see that you're falling out of the box they've put you in, and they keep trying to pile you back in and get you in a nice tidy shape."

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