Barbara Rush, Golden Globe-Winning Star of ‘It Came From Outer Space,’ Dies at 97

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Getty Images

Barbara Rush, the actress who cut her teeth starring in 1950s science-fiction classics before transitioning to playing perennially unruffled women across a range of soap operas, died on Sunday. She was 97.

Rush’s daughter, Claudia Cowan, a senior correspondent for Fox News, confirmed her death to the network.

“My wonderful mother passed away peacefully at 5:28 this evening. I was with her this morning and know she was waiting for me to return home safely to transition,” Cowan said in a statement, according to Fox News Digital. “It’s fitting she chose to leave on Easter as it was one of her favorite holidays and now, of course, Easter will have a deeper significance for me and my family.”

Cowan told USA Today that Rush, who was “among the last of Old Hollywood royalty,” had “battled dementia for a long time.”

Born in Denver, Colorado, in 1927, Rush trained at the Pasadena Playhouse after graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara. It wasn’t long before a talent scout spotted her and, after a screen test, signed her to Paramount Pictures.

A performer who became as prolific as she was perfectly coiffed, Rush was 24 years old when landed her breakthrough role in the 1951 sci-fi flick When Worlds Collide, playing an astronomer’s daughter. The doomsday picture was a hit and scored an Academy Award for best special effects.

She cemented her place in the sci-fi pantheon two years later when she starred in the cult favorite It Came From Outer Space. Her performance—this time as an astronomer’s fiancée—netted her the statuette for most promising female newcomer at the following year’s Golden Globes.

The budding starlet racked up a formidable slate of credits by the decade’s end, acting opposite Rock Hudson in 1954’s Magnificent Obsession, Tony Curtis in 1954’s The Black Shield of Falworth, James Mason in 1956’s Bigger Than Life, and Paul Newman in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians. In 1958, she held her own against a trio of marquee names—Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, and Montgomery Clift—in The Young Lions, a World War II epic that took itself significantly more seriously than its actors did.

“Dean Martin was very funny,” Rush recalled to Marin magazine in 2019. “He never really tried to learn his lines. Montgomery Clift was unwell. He was very, very thin and kind of frail but he just loved Dean Martin. Dean called him Spider and he kept tossing him around. He’d just pick him up and run out to the car with him.”

In the 1960s, Rush was paired twice with Frank Sinatra, playing off him in the comedies Come Blow Your Horn (1963) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964).

As the studio system wound down and the Golden Age of Hollywood came to an end, she began transitioning to television. Appearing in major roles in soaps like Peyton Place, All My Children, and 7th Heaven, Rush played mothers, high-society fixtures, and villainesses. In 1968, she appeared as the devious women’s libber Nora Clavicle—a thinly veiled stand-in for Gloria Steinem—on the long-running Batman series. She also boasted guest spots on shows like The Bionic Woman, Streets of San Francisco, Love Boat, and Murder, She Wrote.

Rush also returned to the stage intermittently throughout her life, touring in productions of 40 Carats, Private Lives, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Steel Magnolias. She brought her one-woman play A Woman of Independent Means to Broadway in 1984, and won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for her trouble, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

She was married three times, and shared a son, Christopher Hunter, with her first husband, The Searchers’ Jeffrey Hunter. At one point one of Tinseltown’s most glamorous couples, the pair’s relationship had flamed out in spectacular fashion by 1955. Four years later, she wed publicist Warren Cowan, with whom she would have Claudia. Rush and Cowan split in 1969, and she met her third husband, sculptor Jim Gruzalski, the following year. Their marriage ended in 1973.

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