Martha Hyer, a Hollywood actress in the 1950s and 1960s who was likened to Grace Kelly for her cool, blond elegance and earned an Oscar nomination for her supporting role in “Some Came Running” (1958), opposite Frank Sinatra, died May 31 in Santa Fe, N.M. She was 89.
The Rivera Family Funeral Home confirmed the death but did not provide the cause.
Ms. Hyer’s most noted role was as an Indiana schoolteacher in “Some Came Running,” based on the James Jones novel about an embittered World War II veteran returning to his home town. She lost the Oscar to Wendy Hiller in “Separate Tables” (1958).
Ms. Hyer also played William Holden’s wealthy fiancee in “Sabrina” (1954) and diplomat Cary Grant’s rich sister-in-law in the comedy “Houseboat” (1958).
Portraying sophisticated women came naturally for Ms. Hyer, who amassed an impressive collection of French Impressionist paintings and joked that she had to give up her mansion in the Hollywood Hills because she had run out of wall space.
“It’s very embarrassing when you are forced to hang an original Renoir in the bathroom,” she once told reporters.
Ms. Hyer was married to Hal B. Wallis, producer of such films as “Casablanca” (1942) and “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), from 1966 until his death 20 years later.
They first saw each other in an LAX ticket line, where they exchanged a lingering glance that they came to call “the Flight Two look.” In a short while, they traveled the world and were a fixture at society soirees. In his 1980 autobiography “Starmaker,” Wallis recalled her giving him a birthday gift lavish in spirit: a chauffeured jaunt to Disneyland and tickets to every ride.
“We spent the day and evening like a couple of kids,” the Hollywood giant wrote, “enjoying the attractions, eating too much, and just plain having fun.”
Martha Hyer was born in Fort Worth, Tex., on Aug. 10, 1924. Her father, Julien, a judge and past president of the service group Lions Clubs International, participated in the prosecution of World War II criminals at Nuremberg.
As a girl, she loved riding — a pastime that she grew to rue early in her career.
“I remember how I used to pray every night that God would let me grow up and be a cowgirl,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1962. “Well, he heard my request, all right. I thought RKO would never let me get off a horse!”
Among her early films were “Gun Smugglers” (1948), “Rustlers” (1949) and “Roughshod” (1949).
Alhough she often was cast as a woman of the world, Ms. Hyer did her share of cornball comedies, including “Abbott and Costello Go to Mars” (1953) and “Francis in the Navy” (1955) with the famous talking mule.
She later had smaller roles in films including “The Best of Everything” (1959), starring Hope Lange and Suzy Parker, “Bikini Beach” (1964), featuring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, “The Carpetbaggers” (1964), based on the Harold Robbins novel, and “The Sons of Katie Elder”(1965), a western starring John Wayne and Dean Martin.
By the time she had established her screen identity in the 1960s, she wanted to move on.
“I would like very much to convince people that I can be something more than a well-dressed sophisticate,” she said. “I go from one picture to the next getting wealthier and wealthier, but I’d like to do it with the hair down — either as a nymphomaniac or an alcoholic. I want to be a problem.”
In actuality, she encountered anguishing problems. In her 1990 memoir “Finding My Way,” she admitted to overspending so badly that she wound up in debt to loan sharks.
Desperate for a loan of $1 million, she delivered a Monet, a Gauguin, and two Remington paintings to con men as collateral, according to a federal appeals court ruling in 1992. The works belonged to her husband who knew nothing about the loan and wound up in a legal dispute with the gallery that eventually acquired them.
Ms. Hyer’s first marriage, to film producer C. Ray Stahl, ended in divorce; she appeared in a film he co-directed, “The Scarlet Spear” (1954). They had no children. A list of her surviving relatives was not immediately available.