Mary Ann Mobley, a raven-haired and statuesque Mississippian who was crowned Miss America in 1958 and parlayed her victory into an acting career, twice appearing in movie musicals starring Elvis Presley, died Dec. 9 in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 77.
The cause was breast cancer, said a spokesman for the University of Mississippi, where Ms. Mobley graduated the year of her beauty contest triumph. She was the first woman from her state to hold the Miss America title.
Trained in drama at Ole Miss, Ms. Mobley sang the Puccini aria “Un Bel Di” and a sultry version of the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” in the talent portion of the competition. She debuted on Broadway in “Nowhere to Go But Up,” a short-lived 1962 musical, then lit out for Los Angeles to break into movies and TV.
Over the decades, she was a guest star on shows including “Perry Mason,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Love, American Style” and “Falcon Crest.” In 1985 and 1986, she had a recurring role in the final season of the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” as the wife of a New York industrialist played by Conrad Bain.
Ms. Mobley performed in many stage and film musicals, starring and singing the title song in “Get Yourself a College Girl” (1964) and appearing in the Jerry Lewis comedy “Three on a Couch” (1966).
She peaked as a screen personality in two Presley musicals from 1965. She was far down in the cast of “Girl Happy” — Shelley Fabares was the leading lady — but the former beauty queen proved fetching in a bikini. Ms. Mobley was elevated to star in “Harum Scarum” as a princess bedecked in what she described as “about 17 million yards of orange chiffon and I don’t know how many pounds of fake hair.”
She told the Memphis Commercial Appeal decades later that Presley, who also was born in Mississippi, put on his finest Southern manners with her and did all he could to help her overcome her nervousness before the camera. His efforts perhaps worked too well; she accidently beaned him with a vase while filming a scene in “Girl Happy.”
“It was one of those sugar vases that doesn’t hurt you, but I’m supposed to miss him,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Mary Ann, you’re supposed to miss me,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, but you forget I played softball in Brandon, Mississippi.’ ”
Mary Ann Mobley was born in Biloxi on Feb. 17, 1937. She was raised by her mother and stepfather, a prosperous lawyer, and showed early talent for singing as a soprano in her church choir.
In 1967, she wed actor Gary Collins, who went on to host daytime talk shows and served in the 1980s as master of ceremonies for the Miss America pageant. He died in 2012, a year after he and Ms. Mobley reportedly separated. Collins was shadowed in his later years by legal troubles involving convictions for drunken driving.
Survivors include their daughter, Clancy Collins White; two stepchildren; a sister; and two grandsons.
Ms. Mobley did fundraising and publicity work with the March of Dimes and the United Cerebral Palsy association, among other organizations. She also made documentaries about homeless and starving children in African war zones. It was dangerous work, she told an interviewer for the Miss America Web site. Once, she came under hostile fire in Mozambique.
“I just pretended it was a movie set,” she said, “and waited for the director to yell ‘cut.’ ”