Hollywood star accused of kidnapping plot

Born: July 15, 1921;

Died: September 16, 2017

MADGE Meredith, who has died aged 96, must be unique in Hollywood history in that she played a kidnap victim on screen and a year later was convicted of being the mastermind behind a real-life kidnapping plot and found herself facing the possibility of spending the rest of her life behind bars.

Her film career stalled just a few years after it had started when she was convicted of arranging for the kidnapping at gunpoint of her erstwhile manager. Her conviction shocked many in Hollywood, including Humphrey Bogart who claimed she was “too cute to be a criminal”.

Friends and supporters gathered evidence and campaigned for her release. She spent three years in prison before the state governor ordered her release, commenting that it was “a bizarre case, perhaps more fantastic than any moving picture in which the defendant acted.”

Born Marjorie May Massow in Iowa Falls, Iowa, in 1921, she suffered from a stammer as a child, but was determined to overcome it and become a film star. After studying acting in New York, she headed for Hollywood and took a job at 20th Century Fox where she hoped a producer, director or star would spot her potential.

And that is pretty much what happened. Jennifer Jones was at the height of her fame and influence on the back of The Song of Bernadette (1943) which brought her a Best Actress Oscar. Jones saw Meredith and recommended her for a screen test.

Before long Meredith had been promoted from delivering lunch to delivering lines in films that included Otto Preminger’s In the Meantime Darling (1944). After a few films Fox released her, but a new deal with manager Nick Gianaclis brought her new offers and promised even greater success.

She had a starring role in The Falcon’s Adventure (1946), as a woman who is kidnapped by a gang who are after her father’s formula for making diamonds. The Falcon was one of those roguish adventurers with cool nicknames who always seem to be stumbling upon fiendish plots, crimes and espionage.

There was a whole series of Falcon films and of course it all ends happily when he rescues her. But the real-life kidnap plot in which Meredith found herself a central player was a rather messier and more drawn-out affair.

She and her manager had fallen out over the ownership of a house in the Hollywood Hills. The case had gone to court with a judge ruling in Meredith’s favour. She also claimed that he was angry when she refused to begin a more personal relationship with him.

It seemed the whole episode had been stage-managed by Gianaclis, motivated by revenge and wanting to get the house back. Released on her 30th birthday, Meredith resumed her acting career but was restricted mainly to supporting roles. Gianaclis was Greek and had his US citizenship revoked.

Meredith made three films with real-life war hero Audie Murphy, Tumbleweed (1953), To Hell and Back (1955) and The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957), she played three different characters in The Adventures of Kit Carson (1954) and she was a slave in The Ten Commandments (1956).

She continued working in television into the 1960s and subsequently worked as an estate agent, campaigned for other victims of injustice and settled in Hawaii. She is survived by her husband, a daughter and an adopted son.