Maloney, Dorothy Eloise [Dorothy Malone] (1924–2018)

By: Codee Scott

Type: Biography

Updated: August 5, 2020

Actress Dorothy Eloise Maloney, better known as Dorothy Malone, was born in Chicago on January 30, 1924, to Robert Ignatius Maloney and Esther Emma (Smith) Maloney. She was the oldest of five children. The Maloneys moved to Dallas when Dorothy was three years old. When her younger sisters Patsy and Joan developed polio, Robert and Esther searched for the best treatment and consulted various doctors across the United States, but both sisters died in 1936. During this time, Malone boarded at the Catholic Ursuline Academy of Dallas for three years. She remained a devout Catholic and told Photoplay magazine in 1957 that her religion “had been much more than a part of my life. It would be more correct to say that my life has been a part of my faith.” During her studies at Ursuline Academy, she served as class president. She graduated as salutatorian in 1936. Malone graduated from Highland Park High School, where she had been the president of the Latin Club, captain of the basketball team, voted ROTC Queen, and elected into the National Honor Society. She was also a member of the school’s Dramatics Club and, as a senior, won first place in the Dallas district one-act plays. After graduation, she attended the Hockaday School’s junior college before transferring to Southern Methodist University in 1943.

At SMU Malone studied courses in language and science, and she joined the drama club. While she was appearing in a university play, RKO Pictures film studio scout Edward Rubin saw her performance. Impressed, Rubin asked her to read additional scenes with an actor from Houston. He then mailed a contract offer to her, which she initially ignored because she thought the offer was a mistake and did not want to leave SMU. Rubin nudged the process along by initiating more correspondence, and, encouraged by her brother William, Malone flew to Hollywood with her mother and signed with RKO. Her film debut was as an uncredited model in Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943). She subsequently had mostly uncredited roles in a series of unremarkable movies before signing with Warner Bros. around 1945, when she dropped the ‘y’ from her last name. Thus, Dorothy Malone was born.

One of her most notable early roles with Warner Bros. came when she was cast as the bookstore owner in The Big Sleep (1946) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In a memorable scene, Malone’s character closes the bookshop, takes off her glasses, and shares a glass of rye with Bogart. Her first major part came two years later when she played opposite Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson in the Technicolor musical, Two Guys from Texas (1948). In the film, which Photoplay called “More foolish than funny,” Malone played a ranch owner, and the characters portrayed by Morgan and Carson vie for her affection. From the late 1940s into the early 1950s she acted in a number of films of various genres—from crime dramas, musicals, and Westerns (including South of St Louis [1949] and Colorado Territory [1949])—produced by Warner Bros., MGM, RKO, and Universal. In her spare time, she enjoyed supporting various charity organizations and took part in speaking engagements.

At some point in the early 1950s Malone left Hollywood and, with the intent of getting married, returned to Dallas, but the engagement fell through. She did charity work and was involved in church activities in the Dallas area and worked for an insurance company before she decided to move to New York City. There she studied in the American Theatre Wing before eventually returning to Hollywood. Malone, a brunette, dyed her hair blond for her role in Young at Heart (1954). She later credited this change as a pivotal moment in her career and felt that the blond locks promoted a more sensual aura and thus attracted more sultry roles.

Her most critically-acclaimed performance was as Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind (1956), in which she co-starred with Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, and Robert Stack. The movie, which revolves around the fictional Hadley family, portrayed Malone’s character Marylee as, according to the Washington Post years later, an alcoholic “nymphomaniac rich girl” who spends the film trying to seduce her childhood friend, played by Hudson. Her onscreen blond bombshell persona was typical of many of the film roles for actresses in the 1950s. Malone’s performance in Written on the Wind earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at the 1957 Oscar ceremony. She dedicated her win to her brother William, who died at the age of sixteen in 1954 after he was struck by lightning while golfing at the Dallas Athletic Country Club. Malone’s post-Oscar films include Man of a Thousand Faces (1957), in which she played Lon Chaney, Sr.’s (performed by James Cagney) first wife, and the Diana Barrymore biographic film Too Much, Too Soon (1958) opposite Errol Flynn. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Her last film role was a small part in Basic Instinct (1992), in which she played convicted murderer Hazel Dobkins.

Malone transitioned to the small screen in the 1960s and starred as Constance Mackenzie in the primetime soap opera Peyton Place. The television series, which premiered in September 1964 on ABC, co-starred Warner Anderson, Ed Nelson, and future celebrities Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal. During filming, Malone developed increasingly serious health issues, which ultimately required a ten-hour surgery for blood clots that blocked blood flow from her heart to her lungs in 1965. She took a leave of absence from the show while she recuperated and returned that November. Actress Lola Albright played Constance for fourteen episodes during her recovery. Unhappy with the direction of her character during the later years of Peyton Place, Malone complained about Constance’s lack of substance. She was subsequently written out of the show in 1968. Malone sued the producers of Peyton Place and received an out-of-court settlement. Despite her dramatic exit, Malone reappeared as Constance in two Peyton Place made-for-television movies—Murder in Peyton Place (1977) and Peyton Place: The Next Generation (1985). She also appeared in individual episodes of various television series throughout the 1970s.

Dorothy Malone married three times. She met her first husband, French actor Jacques Bergerac, at a Hollywood party. They wed at St. Theresa’s Church in Hong Kong on June 28, 1959, during her filming of The Last Voyage (1960). The couple had two daughters, Mimi and Diane, both born in Los Angeles. In 1964 she divorced him on grounds of cruelty, alleging physical abuse. The child custody proceedings proved contentious; Bergerac claimed his wife tried to alienate their children from him. Co-parenting also proved disastrous. The two constantly battled over their daughters’ upbringing. Malone moved back to Dallas in 1968 after a judge granted her permission to move with her children. In April 1969 she married New York stockbroker Robert Tomarkin in Las Vegas, but the union was short-lived, and the marriage was annulled later that same year. Two years after her annulment from Tomarkin, she married Dallas businessman Charles Huston Bell at her Dallas home on October 2, 1971. They divorced on August 14, 1973.

Dorothy Eloise Malone died from natural causes on January 19, 2018, at an assisted-living facility in Dallas. She was survived by her two daughters and her brother, Robert, who had remained in the Dallas area and ultimately became a district judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Malone was buried at Calvary Hill Cemetery and Mausoleum in Dallas.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kirtley Baskette, “This is Your Bittersweet Life,” Modern Screen, August 1957. Dallas Morning News, March 25, 1953; September 25, 1965; July 18, 1970; November 7, 1982. Los Angeles Times, December 2, 1956; June 16, 1964; September 28, 1968; June 28, 2010; January 20, 2018. Washington Post, January 20, 2018.

  • Women
  • Performing Arts
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Codee Scott, “Maloney, Dorothy Eloise [Dorothy Malone],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

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August 5, 2020

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