OJAI—German born actress Dana Wynter, who was best known for the 1956 Republic Pictures horror cult classic film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” died of heart failure on Thursday, May 5 at a hospital in Ojai, Calif. The frosty-styled acting legend was 79 years old. She was born Dagmar Winter in Berlin, but changed her name for theatrical reasons.
The daughter of a very renowned surgeon was raised in England. She also lived for a time in her youth in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) after her father fell in love with the African countryside while attending to a British patient who had moved there and refused to be seen by anyone but Dr. Winter. Prior to her hit film in 1956, the beautiful brunette stunner was doing films in Hollywood and had enjoyed a minor film and stage career in London, England.
The initial release of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was seen as campy by film critics and not well-received by movie goers at all. It would later be proved a cult classic and is still shown in nostalgic movie houses today. The film since its earlier release on video and now on DVD has made more money in the following 50 years than it did the first year it was released. She often laughed and commented that movie goers grew to love the film and possibly the film was made decades too soon.
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” also starred Carolyn Jones and Kevin McCarthy, an esteemed film and stage star, who died last September. Upon her move to Hollywood in 1953, Winter gained attention from entertainment giants and casting agents for her beauty. She was cast in “The View from Pompey’s Head” (1955), based on a best-selling novel by Hamilton Basso. However, famed New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther rated her only as, “pretty” and brushed her aside as an actress who would not enjoy a long career in the industry.
In 1959 she garnered a great deal of attention for her acting in “Shake Hands With The Devil,” which costarred Warner Bros. icon James Cagney. In 1963 she appeared on the big screen for what would be one of her last film roles in “The List of Adrian Messenger,” which was directed by the legendary John Huston.
Her television career followed, with guest-starring roles in ABC’s “The Man Who Never Was,” Aaron Spelling’s “Love Boat,” “Cannon” “Wagon Trail” and later in the 1980s in “Magnum P.I.” opposite Tom Selleck.
She was married to high-profile entertainment lawyer Greg Bautzer, which ended in divorce. She never lived down her role in the “Body Snatchers” and would receive odd gifts commemorating the film from fans and famous people alike. The film was shot on location in the famed Sierra Madre town, which remains very much like it did over 60 years ago when the film was shot.
Actress Tanna Frederick, who starred earlier this year in “Sylvia” at the Sierra Madre Playhouse said, “When you pointed out to me on opening night, that the film [“Body Snatchers”] was made there, I had to see it again. I always loved her work, and she was so classy. She will be remembered by her fans and all of us in the industry not only for her role as Becky Driscoll in ”˜Invasion,’ but for her entire body of work, which in time will be viewed much like her famous role, as legendary.”
Wynter is survived by one son, Mark Bautzer.
Photographs Courtesy: Link 81 Collection