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Carlotta Mercedes McCambridge (March 16, 1916 – March 2, 2004), nicknamed Mercy, was an American film actress, also known for her acting in radio dramas. Orson Welles called her "the world's greatest living radio actress."

Early life

McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinoismarker, the daughter of Irish American Catholic parents Marie (née Mahaffry) and John Patrick McCambridge. She graduated from Mundelein Collegemarker in Chicago before embarking on a career.


She began her career as a radio actor during the 1940s while also performing on Broadwaymarker. Her radio work in this period included her portrayal of Rosemary Levy on Abie's Irish Rose and various characters on the radio series I Love A Mystery in both its West Coast and East Coast incarnations (most notably as "Charity Martin" in The Thing That Cries in the Night, "Nasha" and "Laura" in Bury Your Dead, Arizona, "Sunny Richards" in both The Million Dollar Curse and The Temple of Vampires and "Jack 'Jacqueline' Dempsey Ross" in The Battle of the Century). She frequently did feature roles on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, and was an original cast member on The Guiding Light, before the Bauers took over as the central characters.


Her Hollywood break came when she was cast opposite Broderick Crawford in the 1949 film All the King's Men. McCambridge won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, which won Best Picture for that year. McCambridge also won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress and New Star of the Year - Actress for her performance.

In 1954, the actress co-starred with Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in the offbeat western drama, Johnny Guitar, now regarded as a cult classic. McCambridge and Hayden publicly declared their dislike of Crawford, with McCambridge labeling the film's star "a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady."

McCambridge played the supporting role of "Luz" in the 1956 George Stevens classic Giant, which starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. She was nominated for another Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress but lost to Dorothy Malone in Written on the Wind.

In 1959, McCambridge appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in Joseph L. Mankiewicz' film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer.

McCambridge was well-known for providing the dubbed-in voice of the demonically possessed character in The Exorcist, acted by Linda Blair. McCambridge was promised a screen credit for the film's initial release, but she discovered at the premiere that her name was absent. Her dispute with director William Friedkin and the Warner Bros. brass over her exclusion ended when, with the help of the Screen Actors Guild, she was properly credited for her vocal work in the film.

In the 1970s, she toured in a road company production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Mama, opposite John Carradine as Big Daddy. She appeared as a guest artist in college productions such as El Centro Collegemarker's 1979 The Mousetrap, in which she received top billing despite her character being murdered (by actor Jim Beaver) less than 15 minutes into the play. El Centro brought her back the following year in the title role of The Madwoman of Chaillot.

McCambridge has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker: one for motion pictures, located at 1722 Vine Street, and one for television located at 6243 Hollywood Boulevard. She told the story of her life in The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (Times Books, 1981), ISBN 0-8129-0945-3.

Personal life

McCambridge married her first husband, William Fifield, in 1939 when she was 23 years old. The couple had a son, John Lawrence Fifield. The couple divorced in 1946, after 7 years of marriage.

In 1950, when she was 34 years old, McCambridge married Canadian Fletcher Markle, a radio director. Her son, John, later took Markle's name, thereafter being known as John Markle. During the marriage and afterward, McCambridge battled alcoholicism, often being hospitalized after episodes of heavy drinking. She and Markle divorced in 1962, after 12 years of marriage. In 1969, after years with Alcoholics Anonymous, she achieved sobriety.

McCambridge's son, John Markle, a UCLA graduate, had a PhD in Economics. After being fired from his position as a futures trader at Stephens and Company for mishandling funds, a $5 million lawsuit was filed against him and McCambridge. Although some of the mishandled funds had been handled under McCambridge's name through Markle's power of attorney, she was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing. Markle killed his family, wife Christina and daughters Amy (age 13) and Suzanne (age 9), and then himself in a murder/suicide in 1987. He left a note taking responsibility for his crimes as well as a long, bitter letter to his mother.

McCambridge died on March 2, 2004 in La Jolla, Californiamarker, of natural causes, aged 87.


Year Film Role Notes
1949 All the King's Men Sadie Burke Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress

Golden Globe
1951 Inside Straight Ada Stritch
The Scarf Connie Carter
Lightning Strikes Twice Liza McStringer
Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Awards Herself short subject
1954 Johnny Guitar Emma Small
1956 Giant Luz Benedict Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1957 A Farewell to Arms Miss Van Campen
1958 Touch of Evil Gang leader uncredited
1959 Suddenly, Last Summer Mrs. Grace Holly
1960 Cimarron Mrs. Sarah Wyatt
1961 Angel Baby Sarah Strand
1965 Run Home Slow Nell Hagen screenplay: Don Cerveris; music: Frank Zappa
1966 Lost in Space Cybilla TV series - Episode 49: The Space Croppers
1968 The Counterfeit Killer Frances
1969 99 Women Thelma D
Justine Madame Dusbois
1971 The Last Generation archive footage
1972 The Other Side of the Wind Maggie unreleased - scheduled for 2008 release
1973 Sixteen Ma Irtley
The Exorcist Pazuzu voice only
1977 Thieves Street Lady
1979 The Concorde: Airport '79 Nelli
1983 Echoes Lillian Gerben
1992 Amazing Stories: Book Two Miss Lestrange voice - segment "Family Dog"

Further reading

  • Lackmann, Ronald W. Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland & Company. 2005. ISBN 0786419792.
  • McCambridge, Mercedes. The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography. Times Books, 1981. ISBN 0-8129-0945-3.
  • Terrace, Vincent. Radio Programs, 1924-1984. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0351-9.


  1. "Mercedes McCambridge, 87, Actress Known for Strong Roles," The New York Times, March 18, 2004.
  2. Mercedes McCambridge Biography (1918-)
  3. The Exorcist actress Mercedes McCambridge dies at 85. USA Today. 17 March 2004.
  4. Lackmann, Ronald W. Mercedes Mccambridge: A Biography And Career Record. McFarland & Company. 2005. ISBN 0786419792.

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