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Subject: Archive: Betty Lou Gerson, Jan. 12, 1999

Actress (voice of Cruella De Ville)
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Date Posted: Saturday, January 12, 03:10:07pm

LOS ANGELES--(ENTERTAINMENT WIRE)--Jan. 14, 1999--Betty Lou Gerson, the unforgettable and bombastic voice of the fur-loving villainess, Cruella De Ville, in Disney's classic 1961 animated feature "101 Dalmatians," passed away on Tuesday (1/12) at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles after suffering a massive stroke. The veteran radio and television actress was 84 years old.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Gerson began her radio career in 1935 and went on to earn the nickname, "Soap Opera Queen of Chicago." Her extensive radio credits included dramatic roles on such popular programs as "First Nighter" (with Don Ameche), "Grand Hotel" and "The Lux Radio Theater."

Relocating to Los Angeles in the 1940s with her first husband, radio producer Joe Ainley, the popular actress soon moved into films and television. Her TV credits included "The Twilight Zone," "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Perry Mason," "The Untouchables" and "77 Sunset Strip." She also appeared in such films as "Undercover Girl," "An Annapolis Story," "The Fly" and "Miracle of the Hills."

Her distinctive voice, often compared to that of Talullah Bankhead, caught the attention of Walt Disney, who cast her as the narrator of his 1950 animated feature, "Cinderella." She returned to do the voice of Cruella De Vil in "101 Dalmatians" and had an on-screen cameo appearance in "Mary Poppins."

Legendary Disney animator Marc Davis, who designed and animated the character of Cruella, recalled, "Betty Lou's voice was a true inspiration. She had one of those unique voices that gave you something special to work with and which helped me define the character. She was a dear lady and we will miss her very much."

In 1966, several years after her first husband passed away, Gerson married Lou Lauria and gave up acting to work in his telephone answering service business, whose clients included many Hollywood celebrities and VIPs. In recent years, she returned to doing voice-over work for Disney and other animation studios. Among her last roles, she was heard as a fish diva named Francis in the 1997 animated feature, "Cats Don't Dance."

Gerson is survived by her brother, Fred Gerson, and three children (by marriage) -- Lynne, Don and Lou Lauria, Jr. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Cancer Society. Details regarding a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

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