Amarillo actress at her best in TV comedy

This week in Texas History

“The Addams Family,” an offbeat television comedy about the ghouls next door, premiered on Sep. 20, 1964 with a motionpicture actress from the Texas Panhandle in the role of Morticia.

Carolyn Sue Jones was born into an unhappy Amarillo home in April 1930. Four years later, the head of the house walked out forcing his abandoned wife and two little girls to move in with her parents.

Carolyn inherited an almost fanatical fascination with the movies from her mother, who named her daughters after film stars Carol Lombard and Bette Davis. Asthma attacks, which kept her in bed for weeks at a time, often caused Carolyn to miss first-run features in the downtown theaters, but she made up for that by reading every fan magazine she could get her hands on.

Carolyn decided early in life that she wanted to be a movie actress and pursued her dream with precocious purpose. She consistently stole the show in high school plays and won many awards in speech, poetry and dramatic reading.

After graduating from Amarillo High in 1947, Carolyn was accepted by the Pasadena Playhouse, the prestigious pipeline to the moviemaking machine. With the enthusiastic encouragement of her relatives, she spent the next three years learning her chosen craft and gaining practical experience with summer stock companies.

Carolyn did not have to wait long to be “discovered.” Spotted by a talent scout in a local theater production, she passed her screen test and signed a six-month contract with Paramount Studios. Her big-screen debut in the 1952 flick The Turning Point was a cause for celebration in Amarillo, where, according to her sister, their grandparents “danced around the living room” and their mother “cried.”

But Carolyn wound up out-of-work and broke, when Paramount did not renew her contract. For the next couple of years, she succeeded in paying the rent and sharpening her skills on some of television’s top shows such as “The Millionaire,” “The Colgate Comedy Hour,” “Mr. and Mrs. North” and “Lux Video Theatre.”

Nineteen fifty-three was a red-letter year for Carolyn. She turned a small part in the 3-D horror movie House of Wax into a career boost and married a struggling screenwriter from Dallas named Aaron Spelling.

A Columbia Pictures executive felt Carolyn was perfect for a major part in From Here to Eternity. But the night before her audition, the Texan was hospitalized with pneumonia, and the Oscar-winning role went to Donna Reed.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Carolyn kept plugging away, and her hard work was rewarded with bigger parts in better pictures. She appeared in Desiree with Marlon Brando, The Seven Year Itch with Marilyn Monroe and the science-fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers before cutting her blond hair short and dyeing it black for The Bachelor Party. Though on screen for only eight minutes, her riveting performance in the 1957 drama earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Carolyn did not take home the Oscar but as a consolation prize found herself suddenly in demand. She was Mickey Rooney’s gun moll in Baby-Face Nelson, Natalie Wood’s best friend in Marjorie Morningstar, the object of Frank Sinatra’s affection in A Hole in the Head and Elvis Presley’s romantic interest in his best movie, King Creole.

Carolyn was one of Hollywood’s busiest and best paid character actresses, but she chose to risk it all for the chance to be a leading lady. She gambled on a box-office flop ironically entitled Career, and the mistake cost her dearly.

Husband Aaron’s career finally took off just as Carolyn’s stalled. They separated in the fall of 1963 and divorced the following summer. She could have taken the future king of prime-time TV to the cleaners but chose not to ask for alimony.

At this low point in Carolyn’s life came the invitation to join the cast of “The Addams Family,” which hit the airwaves the same month as “The Munsters” and “Bewitched.” John Astin, her co-star and a big fan, put his finger on the actress’ deadpan appeal: “What made Carolyn so perfect in the role of Morticia was that wicked sense of humor she had.”

“The Addams Family” was still riding high in the ratings, when ABC inexplicably canceled the series at the end of the second season. Alone and in limbo, Carolyn married her vocal coach and retired to Palm Springs.

Seven years later, she returned to Hollywood to try a comeback at age 46. Carolyn found plenty of work on the small screen with guest appearances and made-for-television movies. She had just settled into a continuing role on a daytime soap opera, when she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

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