The Los Angeles Times, quoting a close friend of Ms. Scott’s, Mary Goodstein, on Friday, said the actress died of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Ms. Scott was billed as another Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake, and in many of her 22 films she portrayed a good-bad girl with love in her head and larceny in her heart, or vice versa. Her co-stars were Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and other tough gents, and her movies’ titles were lurid stuff: “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers,” “Dead Reckoning,” “Pitfall,” “Dark City,” “I Walk Alone” and “Bad for Each Other.”
"When you say ambition to me, that’s when you get me started!" Ms. Scott was widely quoted as saying. "My greatest ambition is to be the whoppingest best actress in Hollywood. You can’t blame a girl for trying! I don’t want to be classed as a ‘personality,’ something to stare at. I want to have my talents respected, not only by the public but by myself."
She had the goods: the luminous eyes and moist lips that belied a heart of stone, the slinky figure, the sculptured cheekbones, the cascading hair and husky voice suitable for torch songs or seductive close-ups. She gave a riveting performance as a killer in “Too Late for Tears” in 1949 and was captivating as Charlton Heston’s singer girlfriend in the revenge thriller “Dark City” in 1950.
By then postwar film noir was losing its appeal, and her last foray into the genre was in “The Racket” (1951), with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan. Later in the ’50s she drifted into mediocre melodramas and even a western.
Ms. Scott’s heyday lasted barely a decade, and film historians say it never matched the Bacall magic or the Lake sensuality. Her later performances were scorned by many critics, though some said she was thoroughly convincing in unsympathetic roles.
Her film career was further damaged, perhaps fatally, by an innuendo-laced 1954 article in Confidential magazine suggesting that she was a lesbian. The article noted that she had never married, quoted her as saying that she “always wore male colognes, slept in men’s pajamas and positively hated frilly feminine dresses,” and said that she had been “taking up almost exclusively with Hollywood’s weird society of baritone babes.”
Ms. Scott sued for $2.5 million, contending that the magazine had portrayed her in a “vicious, slanderous and indecent” manner. The outcome was never made public, but the suit, filed in 1955, was believed to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The scandal, however, was nearly ruinous. She made two more unremarkable films in the 1950s, then turned to singing, recording for RCA Records.
There were also television appearances, on game shows and occasionally on drama series including “Studio 57,” “The 20th Century Fox Hour,” “Adventures in Paradise” and “The Third Man.” She performed on radio shows like “The Lux Radio Theater,” and even did television voice-overs for juice and cat-food commercials. She appeared in her last film, “Pulp,” with Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney, in 1972.
In her later years, Ms. Scott led a quiet, largely private life. She helped raise funds for museums, art galleries and charities, including hemophilia research and hunger, and turned down many requests for interviews and guest appearances. There were rumors in the 1960s that she might marry Hal B. Wallis, the producer who discovered her, but she remained single.
The film historian Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, in “Femme Noir: Bad Girls of Film” (1998), called Ms. Scott “a unique product of Hollywood’s Golden Age” and “one of film noir’s archetypal femmes.”
She was born Emma Matzo on Sept. 29, 1922, in Scranton, Pa., one of six children of Ukrainian immigrants. She attended Marywood College, but quit to move to New York City. She enrolled at the Alvienne School of Drama, got work in summer stock and modeling and started calling herself Elizabeth Scott. Information on survivors was not immediately available.
In 1942, Ms. Scott was the understudy for Tallulah Bankhead in the Broadway production of Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” but had no chance to substitute. When Miriam Hopkins replaced Bankhead in 1943, Ms. Scott returned to modeling. But she was called back to the show to fill in for an ailing Gladys George, who had replaced Hopkins. She won rave reviews, and played the lead in the play’s Boston run.
Mr. Wallis noticed her. Screen tests and a Paramount contract followed. She had already dropped the “E” in her first name — “to be different,” she said. She made her film debut in “You Came Along” (1945), then was cast in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946), with Barbara Stanwyck and Kirk Douglas. Her scenes were limited, but reviewers praised her performance.
Her breakthrough was “Dead Reckoning” (1947), opposite Bogart. In her ensuing mystery-thrillers — “I Walk Alone” and “Pitfall” in 1948, “Too Late for Tears” in 1949, “Paid in Full” in 1950 — she joined the classic pantheon of film noir: beautiful schemers caught in maelstroms of jealousy, greed, betrayal and murder, but irresistible...