Frequently appearing for or alongside her actor/writer husband of 50 years, noted stage, screen and TV heavy and writer Leo Gordon, actress Lynn Cartwright is probably best remembered for one of her early screen roles as the brusque, Brooklyn-accented switchboard operator in the cult horror The Wasp Woman (1959), and for her touching final screen appearance as the older, sweet-faced WWII-era baseball player Dottie Hinson (played throughout most the film by Geena Davis)) in the final scenes of the Penny Marshall-helmed comedy A League of Their Own (1992).
The willowy, auburn-haired performer with the highly distinctive cheek bones was born on February 27, 1927, in McAlester, Oklahoma, the daughter of U.S. Congressman Wilburn and his wife Carrie (née Staggs) Cartwright. Lynn’s younger sister, Wilburta, born a year later, went on to become an artist. Other politically-minded Oklahomans from her family tree include Legislator Buck Cartwright and former Attorney General Jan-Eric Cartwright.
Lynn enrolled in acting lessons at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York in the late 1940s. Here is where she met Gordon, an ex-con who was trying to turn his life around as an actor. The couple married in February of 1950 and began married life touring together on the Borscht Belt stages. They went on to have a daughter together, Tara Gordon.
Leo’s career took off after he landed an agent and moved the family West to Los Angeles. His brutally hard looks and massive brick-wall presence easily took on evil dimensions and after a chilling breakthough perf in City of Bad Men (1953), cemented his screen infamy with the powerful role of the psychotic prisoner in director Don Siegel’s Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954). Lynn (using her real first name Doralyn before condensing it to Lynn) found a couple of meager TV assignments (“Rin Tin Tin,” etc.) during this early time, but began finding more roles once Leo managed to parlay his acting career into a successful writing one as well. Lynn, in fact, made her film debut in the very first film script Leo sold, Black Patch (1957), which included parts for the two of them.
Lynn also appeared in her writer/husband’s script The Cry Baby Killer (1958) which was produced by Roger Corman and introduced Jack Nicholson to film audiences, and can be spotted as one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Venusian sirens in the campy cult opus Queen of Outer Space (1958). She ended the decade with minor TV drama work in “Target,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Peter Gunn,” “Bat Masterson” and “Highway Patrol”.
The 1960’s proved to be lean years. Other than a couple of unbilled film parts in The Apartment (1960), which won Oscar’s “Best Picture” that year and the totally obscure The Girls on the Beach (1965) in which Lynn and Leo were glimpsed as waiters, acting offers were few and far between. By the end of the decade she was appearing in her husband’s soft-erotica scripts, including All the Loving Couples (1969), which focused on wife swappers, and in The Erotic Adventures of Robin Hood (1969), which is self-explanatory, as the villainous Lady Sallyforth. The former was based on Leo’s own written novel.
Lynn appeared without Leo in the sex-minded teaser film Gabriella, Gabriella (1970) and in The Lucifer Complex (1978) starring Robert Vaughn. She also worked (with and without Leo) from time to time in association with writer/director/producer Rod Amateau in such frisky movie vehicles as Where Does It Hurt? (1972) starring Peter Sellers and The Seniors (1978) starring Dennis Quaid and Priscilla Barnes, as well as Amateau’s Nazi-themed lowbudget Son of Hitler (1979) with ‘Bud Cort’ in the unlikely title role, the teen-oriented Lovelines (1984), and the bizarre and controversial The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987).
On the small screen Lynn could occasionally be found on such 70s and 80s shows as “Adam’s 12,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Dynasty” and “Knot’s Landing,” some of which were scripted by her husband. In the 1970s Leo and Lynn joined the Group Repertory Theatre company in North Hollywood, California, which was founded by actor Lonny Chapman, where Leo tested and wrote (while Lynn appeared in) several of his stage plays.
Lynn ended her career on a sentimental high note after being cast as the senior version of Geena Davis’ character who revisits her baseball-playing alumni at the end of the comedy hit film A League of Their Own (1992) starring Davis and Tom Hanks. The facial resemblance between the two actresses is so extraordinary that people often assume it is Geena herself wearing old-age makeup. Part of this mistaken belief has to to do with the confusion over Lynn’s voice — which was not used in the movie but dubbed in by Geena herself.
Illness dogged Leo’s last years and he died in 2000 of cardiovascular disease at age 78, after 50 years of marriage. Lynn was never able to overcome her grief and her health quickly declined following his death with the advancement of dementia. She died four years later after a fall resulted in a hip fracture. She was interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
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