Carlotta Mercedes McCambridge (March 16, 1916 – March 2, 2004) was an Academy Award-winning and Golden Globe-winning American actress. Orson Welles called her “the world’s greatest living radio actress.”
McCambridge was born in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of parents Marie and John Patrick McCambridge. She graduated from Mundelin College in Chicago. She began her career as a radio actor during the 1940’s while also performing on Broadway.
Her Hollywood break came when she was cast opposite Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men (1949). McCambridge won the 1949 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role, while the film won Best Picture for that year. McCambridge also won the Golden Globe Award 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 George Stevens epic, Giant (1956), which starred Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean in his last role. In 1959, McCambridge appeared opposite Katherine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer.
Of more interest to casual readers of this site, McCambridge provided the dubbed voice of the demonically possessed child Regan 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 Warner Bros. 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 1970’s, 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 College’s 1979 The Mousetrap, in which she received top billing despite her character being murdered less than 15 minutes into the play.
In the mid-1970’s, McCambridge briefly took a position as director of Livingrin, a Pennsylvania rehabilitation center for alcoholics. She was at the same time putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be released autobiography, The Quality of Mercy: An Autobiography (Times Books, 1981).
McCambridge died on March 2, 2004 in La Jolla, California, of natural causes.