This alluring hazel-eyed 1940s leading lady was born Ardis Ankerson on the Philippine island of Negros, one of two siblings. Her father was Otto Peter Ankerson who held an important position as overseer of a large sugar plantation. Following the premature death of her mother in 1925, Ardis and her sister were packed off to San Antonio to complete their education. Ardis was voted Freshman Class Beauty of 1934 at Texas State College, acted in amateur dramatics and worked hard on diction and improvisation. By then, she was clearly determined to become a professional actress. Following her graduation, she moved to New York where she studied drama under the tuition of actor Richard Gaines (and eventually married him in 1936). Gaines helped her secure acting work in stock companies under the Federal Theatre Project, sponsored by the Works Progress Administration as part of the New Deal. While in New York, Ardis successfully auditioned for Paramount, but studio executives dropped the option to sign her due to what they deemed her excessive salary demands. Warner Brothers viewed the screen test some time later and proved less squeamish about picking her up. With the inevitable name change prompted by the studio, ‘Brenda Marshall’ went Hollywood. During her tenure in Tinseltown, she made it clear to friends and co-workers alike, that she be addressed not by her studio-fabricated cognomen, but by her given name (with the addition of her married name of Gaines).
Brenda made an almost immediate impact in her fourth outing for Warners as Doña Maria, providing the romantic interest in Errol Flynn’s classic swashbuckler The Sea Hawk (1940). This should have established the brunette beauty as a tangible box office attraction. Alas, only routine material followed and Brenda saw out the remainder of her contract as exotic leads in second features like East of the River (1940), South of Suez (1940) and Singapore Woman (1941). There were to be two more A-grade productions, but Brenda ended up playing second fiddle to James Cagney’s aviation heroics in Captains of the Clouds (1942) and was overshadowed in the charisma department by Joan Fontaine and Alexis Smith in The Constant Nymph (1943). By 1950, she quit the acting profession and devoted herself to other causes. A year after her divorce from Gaines in 1940, Brenda had wed the actor William Holden in Las Vegas. She was of help to him in setting up the Mt. Kenya Safari Club as a means of protecting African wildlife. The couple seemed content for a while. However, the marriage proved to be increasingly volatile and began to unravel by 1963, ending up in divorce eight years later. Brenda died from throat cancer in Palm Springs in 1992 at the age of 76.
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