Hope Lange was born to act. The daughter of a professional musician and an actress, she was appearing on Broadway before she hit double digits.
Hope Lange was born to act. The daughter of a professional musician and an actress, she was appearing on Broadway before she hit double digits, with a speaking role in The Patriots when she was 9 . When she broke through to film and television work, she did it with a bang –– her first movie was 1956’s Bus Stop, starring Marilyn Monroe. Monroe apparently felt a little threatened by the blonde ingénue, and asked producers to have Lange’s hair dyed light brown.
With such a high-profile start to her career, it’s no surprise Lange was destined for further greatness. We’re remembering two roles in which Lange truly shone. One was a movie and the other a TV series, and both brought her widespread recognition.
The year after Lange’s movie debut, she was cast in what was arguably her greatest film, Peyton Place. Playing Selena Cross, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who is being abused by her stepfather, Lange turned in a heartbreaking performance. The film stoked considerable controversy at the time of its release because of strong sexual themes in the book on which it was based. The story was toned down for the movie version, making it more of a melodrama than a scandalously racy tale. In the end, the fine performances shone through, and Lange garnered an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress along with Diane Varsi, who played her best friend. Neither won; nor did Lana Turner, nominated for best actress, but the movie stands as a classic.
Eleven years later, with a number of movies and TV appearances on her resume, Lange took a starring role in the new TV series The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, based on the 1947 movie. Lange played Mrs. Muir, a widowed mother who rents a Maine cottage that turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a 19th-century sea captain. The sitcom struggled in the ratings and lasted only two years. The critics, however, saw the quality of the show, and Lange won Emmys for lead actress in a comedy series for both years that it ran.
Plenty of life was left in Lange’s career post-Mrs. Muir –– her other notable roles included Charles Bronson’s wife in Death Wish, Laura Dern’s mother in Blue Velvet, and appearances on popular TV shows including The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote. Her personal life proved just as rich; she was linked romantically to director Alan Pakula, actors Don Murray and Glenn Ford, singer Frank Sinatra and author John Cheever, among others. Lange died Dec. 19, 2003, at 70.