July 25, 2021

Nina Foch (1924–2008)

A leading lady of the 1940s, the tall and blonde Foch usually played cool, aloof and often foreign, women of sophistication. As film roles became harder to find, Foch proved to be versatile in many areas. She was a panelist on several TV quiz shows, worked as George Stevens’ assistant director for The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and directed plays. Since the 1960s, she has been an acting teacher for USC and the American Film Institute.

A tall, cool drink of water best sums up this confidant blonde actress of 40s “B” mysteries, melodrama, film, and the occasional sparkling comedy at Columbia Studios. Nina was born with the unusually multi-ethnic name of Nina Consuelo Maud Fock, her father being the renowned Dutch composer and conductor Dirk Fock, and her mother the stage and silent film actress Consuelo Flowerton, who once worked in a Valentino movie. Her parents divorced while she was a toddler and she and her mother moved to New York where Nina was encouraged to indulge in her creative and artistic leanings. A teen concert pianist, Nina also excelled at painting and sculpture, but it was acting that captured her heart. With that, she trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and became an enthusiastic exponent of the “Method” technique after studying with acting gurus Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.

Revising her last name to a classier sounding “Foch”, Nina appeared briefly on the regional stage before earning a starlet contract with Columbia at age 19. Her debut in Bela Lugosi’s The Return of the Vampire (1943) was followed by featured roles in other more or less modest efforts. She had her first standout role in the popular Chopin biopic A Song to Remember (1945) starring Cornel Wilde, which led to her title role in one of her best films My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), earning major plaudits as a heroine on the brink of madness. Despite her obvious capabilities, she became inextricably entrenched in secondary movie fare, some of them nevertheless achieving near cult status such as I Love a Mystery (1945), The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), The Dark Past (1948), and her last for Columbia, Johnny Allegro (1949) with George Raft.

Nina relieved some of the disappointment of her film career by actively pursuing the stage, where she scored a Broadway hit with the classy comedy “John Loves Mary” in 1947, followed by productions of “The Respectful Prostitute” and “Twelfth Night”. A one-time member of the American Shakespeare Festival at Stratford, she performed as Isabella in “Measure for Measure” and Katharina in “The Taming of the Shrew”. She wasted no time securing early TV drama work and numerous summer stock roles also added to her enjoyment. MGM utilized her in a supporting capacity for some of their films, notably the ritzy patron and paramour-in-waiting of artist Gene Kelly whom she loses to Leslie Caron in An American in Paris (1951). The studio also handed her the Oscar-nominated role of the lonely but altruistic executive secretary in the all-star ensemble drama Executive Suite (1954). While Nina customarily lent poise and class to her on-camera roles in the late 1950s and in the 1960s, she seldom was given the chance to truly shine in the ensuing years. Nothing underscored this problem better than her standard featured parts in The Ten Commandments (1956) and Spartacus (1960).

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