The Descent of Cathy Downs

Big time props today for movie star Cathy Downs (1926-1976).

Now that I’ve been a Long Islander for three years, when I hear that she’s from nearby Port Jefferson, I think of her as a local girl. Downs was already a professional print model at the age of 18 when she was signed to a contract by Fox. She had bit parts in her earliest films, the show biz confections Diamond Horseshoe (shot at Billy Rose’s night club), State Fair and The Dolly Sisters, all 1945, and Do You Love Me? (1946). Her first real role was a supporting part in the noir film The Dark Corner (1946). This was followed by the title in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946)., followed by another noir For You I Die (1947), and Abbott and Costello’s The Noose Hangs High (1948).

For some reason, Downs got typecast in westerns, mostly B pictures, of descending quality: Panhandle (1948), Massacre River (1949), The Sundowners (1950), Short Grass (1950), Bandits of the West (1953), Kentucky Rifle (1955), The Oklahoma Woman (1956), and Tombstone Territory (1958).

In 1949 she married Joe Kirkwood Jr, star of the Joe Palooka films. She played the mug’s wife in Joe Palooka in Triple Cross (1951) and on the TV series The Joe Palooka Story (1954-55). The pair divorced in 1955.

Republic’s Gobs and Gals (1952) with the Bernard Brothers brought her back to her roots in a way, but going forward most of her film work was pretty schlocky. She co-starred in the low-budget pyromania drama The Flaming Urge (1953) with Harold Lloyd Jr. This was followed by The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955), The She Creature (1956), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Missile to the Moon (1958). Most of her last work was in television westerns like Tombstone Territory, Rawhide and Bat Masterson. A 1965 episode of Perry Mason was her final screen credit.

Meanwhile, Downs had divorced her second husband, an electronics executive, in 1963. At age 40, she was finished in the industry for whatever reason, and by the time of her early death of cancer at age 50, she was destitute. How does this happen? Was she a terrible person? Independent to a fault? Or is “the business” just that cold?