Carol Lynley, actress best known for her role in the disaster epic ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ – obituary

Carol Lynley
Carol Lynley Credit: Bettmann

Carol Lynley, the actress, who has died aged 77, was best known for her starring role in the disaster epic The Poseidon Adventure (1972), in which she also lip-synched the film’s Oscar-winning song The Morning After.

The film, directed by Ronald Neame and produced by Irwin Allen, was set aboard the ocean liner SS Poseidon, overturned by a tidal wave. It became a classic of the genre and paved the way for later Irwin Allen extravaganzas such as The Towering Inferno (1974).

In Poseidon, Carol Lynley played the part of Nonnie, a singer in a band and one of a group of survivors who reunite in the ship’s upturned ballroom to begin their battle for survival.

Petula Clark was said to have been offered the role, and Cher was rumoured to have been in the running. As it was, Carol Lynley found it physically demanding, recalling the scant health and safety provision: “If one fell one would fall hard, far and final. The cast of survivors were called to swim under water, climb to dizzy heights, scramble across narrow walkways, and all the while hosed down until we shivered.”

But, she added: “In hindsight I loved it.”

Carol Lynley c. 1965 Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

She was born Carole Ann Jones in Manhattan on February 13 1942. After she left school, her mother found her employment as a child model under the name Carolyn Lee. Finding that there was another actress with the name, she became Carol Lynley before making her television debut in 1956 in an episode of Goodyear Playhouse. This was followed by parts in other shows including Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In 1957 Walt Disney cast her for her film debut in his adventure drama The Light in the Forest. But it was James Leo Herlihy’s controversial Broadway play Blue Denim (1958) which catapulted her to stardom. So convincing was she as Janet Willard, a teenager who tries to have an illegal abortion, that she was cast in the same role in the screen version the following year.

However, the play had received criticism from pro-life groups, and in the film version Janet goes through with the pregnancy. The role won Carol Lynley a nomination for a Golden Globe as Most Promising Female Newcomer.

She went on to play Betsy in the romantic farce, Holiday for Lovers (1959), and in Return to Peyton Place (1961) she played a novelist who reveals the scandals of a small town.

She was a tenant pursued by Jack Lemmon’s lovestruck landlord in Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), and took the lead in Harlow (1965), the biopic of Jean Harlow. In the mystery thriller Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), she was a young mother who is not believed when she reports her daughter missing.

Struggling to find film work when the Hollywood studio contract system ended, Carol Lynley turned again to television, with guest roles on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Invaders, The Big Valley and, in 1972, the TV movie Night Stalker, though she had returned to feature films in 1969 as a psychotic murderess in Once You Kiss a Stranger.

'The Poseidon Adventure' became a cult classic and paved the way for such box-office hits as 'Towering Inferno' Credit: LMPC via Getty Images

Despite the success of The Poseidon Adventure, Carol Lynley continued to work mostly on the small screen with made-for-TV films such as The Elevator (1974), in which she found herself trapped with Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright in a high-rise lift. She retired after appearing in Sage Stallone’s film short Vic (2006).

Her marriage in 1960 to the producer Michael Selsman ended after four years. Later rumours that she might marry Fred Astaire came to nothing, but she was romantically linked to the broadcaster David Frost for some 20 years.

Carol Lynley is survived by a daughter.

Carol Lynley, born February 13 1942, died September 3 2019