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'House of Wax' Actress Phyllis Kirk


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'House of Wax' Actress Phyllis Kirk

by Valerie J. Nelson

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Phyllis Kirk

LOS ANGELES, California -- Phyllis Kirk, an actress who played the damsel in extreme distress stalked by Vincent Price in "House of Wax," a horror movie considered the best and most popular 3-D film of the 1950s, died Thursday, October 19 of complications from a post-cerebral aneurysm at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, said Dale Olson, her former publicist.. She was 79.

When first asked to appear in 1953's "House of Wax," the actress resisted, because she "was not interested in becoming the Fay Wray of her time," Kirk later said, referring to the screaming co-star of 1933's "King Kong." Neither did she want to act in a movie that relied on a gimmick; the 3-D process required movie patrons to wear special colored glasses.

Warner Bros. insisted that she take the part or be suspended from her contract. "I went on to have a lot of fun making 'House of Wax.' It was just fun; Vincent Price was a divine man and was a divine actor," Kirk said in a 2004 interview with the Astounding B Monster, a website for fans of B movies and cult films.

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Phyllis Kirk in 1953's 'House of Wax'

The movie tested her endurance, because she continually had to be filmed running from Price, who played a mentally warped sculptor whose victims are turned into wax figures. It also tested her patience; she "loathed" being a model for a wax statue. "That is no fun! They pour this stuff all over you to make a mold, and then some genius re-forms the whole thing into wax," Kirk told the website.

During the rest of the 1950s, she often appeared in television anthologies before being cast opposite Peter Lawford in "The Thin Man," which aired on NBC from 1957 to 1959. The pair played sophisticated married sleuths Nick and Nora Charles in the series.

"The Thin Man," based on the Dashiell Hammett book and MGM movies that had starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, brought Kirk an Emmy nomination in 1959. "It was the most happy and interesting work experience I ever had as an actress," she told The Associated Press in 1984.

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Phyllis Kirk and Gene Barry in 1956's 'Back From Eternity'

Known for being outspoken, Kirk worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to campaign against capital punishment in the late 1950s. Before the California Assembly, she spoke against the death sentence of Caryl Chessman

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