Like her better-remembered contemporaries, Veronica Lake and Lauren Bacall, Lizabeth Scott was one of the classic film noir femmes fatales. A sultry blonde with a permanent pout, defiant stare, and a husky voice, she looked like an early version of Debbie Harry and sounded like June Allyson’s sexier sister.
The daughter of English-Russian parents, Scott was born Emma Matzo in Pennsylvania in 1922. After considering becoming a nun, an opera singer, a journalist, and even an industrialist, she settled on an acting career. Her first job was with the national company of the raucous Olsen and Johnson show Hellzapoppin’. When Hellzapoppin’ came to an end, Scott headed for New York to look for work. When her money ran low, she – like Lauren Bacall – turned to modelling for such magazines as Harper’s Bazaar.
In 1942, Scott landed a walk-on part in the Broadway production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth which starred Tallulah Bankhead and Montgomery Clift. Shortly afterwards, she became Bankhead’s understudy.
After a year of being ignored by the temperamental star, Scott quit. Just after she left the show, Bankhead moved on, too, and her role was taken by Miriam Hopkins. Three months into Hopkins’s run, the producers called Scott and asked her, at only a few hours’ notice, to fill in for the star, who was ill. She ended up playing her part for three weeks, and received very favourable reviews.
Once Hopkins returned to work, Scott was right back where she had been before her taste of leading lady-dom. Out of the blue she received a call from a Hollywood actors’ agent who had spotted her in a Harper’s Bazaar photo spread. He invited her out to Hollywood to take a screen test with Warner Bros. Warners were unimpressed, but the producer Hal Wallis, who worked for Jack Warner, liked her. He left Warners and put her under personal contract to him. Wallis cast Scott in a leading role in her debut film, the long-forgotten drama You Came Along, in 1945.
She began to attract attention in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), a classy melodrama, but it was the 1947 film noir Dead Reckoning, in which she played opposite Humphrey Bogart, which signalled her movie breakthrough and established her as a hot new star. She went on to play the smouldering femme fatale who ruins family man Dick Powell’s life in the taut thriller Pitfall (1948), and the grasping wife in the atmospheric Jacques Tourneur melodrama Easy Living (1949). Scott fared less well in the 1950s, with only her role as Robert Ryan’s moll in The Racket (1951) worth noting.
In 1955, she made the gossip columns when she sued Confidential magazine over allegations about her sexual preferences. After appearing as Elvis Presley’s publicist in Loving You (1957), she virtually bowed out of movies altogether, making only one comeback – in the offbeat drama Pulp – in 1972. Since then, she has almost entirely disappeared from the limelight, apart from a stint as a nightclub singer (she has one, 1957, album to her credit) in Las Vegas, in the 1970s.