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Frances Drake

Frances Drake, a leading lady of the 1930s and '40s who was one of that era's great brunet beauties of film, has died.

A longtime resident of Beverly Hills, Drake died Monday at Irvine Medical Center, said her husband, David Brown. She was 91.

Known for her striking looks and huge hazel eyes, Drake appeared in more than 20 movies with some of her generation's biggest stars, including Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Cary Grant.

Born in New York and educated in Canada and England, she started out as a nightclub dancer in London, where she made both her stage and screen debuts under her real name, Frances Dean.

She moved to Hollywood in 1934 and appeared in many productions, beginning with "Bolero," in which she starred opposite George Raft and Carole Lombard. That was followed by "Ladies Should Listen" with Cary Grant and "Les Miserables" with Fredric March and Charles Laughton.

She was best remembered as the terrified heroine in horror and mystery films. In "Mad Love," released in 1935, she was the love interest of mad scientist Peter Lorre, who cut off her pianist-husband's hand in a disastrous operation. She also starred in a 1936 production called "The Invisible Ray," with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, in which Drake played scientist Karloff's long-suffering wife.

Her last movies included "I Take This Woman," a 1940 release with Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr, and "The Affairs of Martha" in 1942. She said she retired after marrying Cecil John Howard, the son of the 19th earl of Suffolk, because her husband hated the movie business. Howard died in 1985. Drake married Brown in 1992.

A memorial service will be held Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Hollywood United Methodist Church, 6817 Franklin Ave.

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