Blond, blue-eyed and with an attractively feline appeal, Carol Lynley began her professional career as Carolyn Lee. She learned ballet at the age of seven, became a successful child model at the age of ten (eventually working for the Sears & Roebuck department store in New York) and got her face nationally recognised as ‘the Coca-Cola Girl’.
Carol was born Carole Ann Jones in New York City, to Frances Fuller (Felch), from New England, and Cyril Roland Jones, who was an Irish immigrant. Trying to branch out into acting early on, Carol discovered that another individual by that name (born seven years earlier) was already on the books of Actors’ Equity, thus Carolyn changed her moniker by fusing the ‘lyn’ and the ‘lee’ to create ‘Lynley’. From the age of fifteen she appeared on Broadway, played juvenile roles in early anthology television and was featured on the cover of Life Magazine in April 1957. Her first important film roles came in decidedly wholesome fare, beginning with The Light in the Forest (1958) for Walt Disney Productions in which she played the indentured servant girl Shenandoe. It was a promising start. A New York Times reviewer praised her performance (alongside that of fellow screen newbie James MacArthur), describing both as “real charmers with more than their share of talent.” Thrust once more into the limelight, Lynley reprised her earlier Broadway role in the film version of Blue Denim (1959) as a naive girl who becomes pregnant and faces the dilemma of confronting her father or having an illegal abortion. This performance got her nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Most Promising Newcomer in 1959. That same year, she graduated with a diploma from New York’s School for Young Professionals. Lynley went on to play other ingénues and troubled teens before gradually shedding her wholesome image by the early 60s.
Return to Peyton Place (1961) headlined the actress as a best-selling novelist who controversially reveals the town’s darkest secrets and scandals. This was followed by the bawdy (and mostly irritating) sex farce Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), with Lynley as a virginal college student in a New York apartment block pursued by a lecherous landlord/playboy (played by Jack Lemmon). Luckily, better opportunities to prove her acting mettle turned up with a double role in The Cardinal (1963) (opposite Tom Tryon) and as the tormented mother of a kidnapped child in the superior psychological thriller Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), directed by Otto Preminger and co-starring Laurence Olivier. Cinema magazine commented “With a face like that of a fallen angel, Carol Lynley has beauty that is often awe inspiring”.
In March 1965, the former teen queen posed nude for an issue of Playboy magazine. That same year, she played the title role in a turgid biopic of 1930s Hollywood sex symbol Jean Harlow. While the quality of her films tended to decline after the mid-60s, there were still entertaining moments in B-pictures like The Shuttered Room (1967) and Once You Kiss a Stranger… (1969) (in this lurid thriller, Lynley rose above her material and was memorable in the role of a psychotic murderess). In Irwin Allen’s The Poseidon Adventure (1972), she was merely one of the ill-fated passengers who ended up in Davy Jones’ Locker. Still, Variety called her performance “especially effective”. After 1967, television provided most of her work, including guest spots in seminal shows like Mannix (1967), The Invaders (1967), Hawaii Five-O (1968) and as co-star of the TV pilot for The Night Stalker (1972) (as Carl Kolchak’s girlfriend). In her penultimate role, Lynley played a grandmother in a film titled uncannily similar to the one which had launched her career: A Light in the Forest (2003).
Carol Lynley retired from the screen in 2006. A highly capable actress who should have made a bigger splash in Hollywood, she passed away on September 3, 2019, in Pacific Palisades, California, from a heart attack at the age of 77.
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