Dana Wynter died Thursday, May 5, of congestive heart failure at Ojai Valley Community Hospital’s Continuing Care Center, located in the small hilly community about 60 miles north of Los Angeles. She would have turned 80 on June 8.
Though never a top film star, Dana Wynter holds a place of honor in film history: she is the heroine who falls asleep in the wrong place, at the wrong time, near the wrong pods in Don Siegel’s 1956 sci-fi-horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Other notable films include Henry Koster’s D-Day the Sixth of June, with Robert Taylor and Richard Todd; John Huston’s The List of Adrian Messenger, with George C. Scott; and George Seaton’s all-star blockbuster Airport (1970).
The daughter of a surgeon, Wynter (born Dagmar Winter, in Berlin) grew up in England and later Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) and South Africa.
After abandoning pre-med studies, Wynter began her film career — under her real name — in small parts in British productions of the early ’50s.
She was brought to the United States in 1953, later landing a contract with 20th Century Fox. Her leading-lady days at Fox began with the Philip Dunne-directed drama The View from Pompey’s Head (1955), opposite Richard Egan and Cameron Mitchell.
Just prior to that, Wynter starred opposite Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) for Allied Artists, the renamed and upgraded version of Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures.
The story of small Californian town invaded by soul-stealing alien pods, the low-budget ($350k; $2.9 million today) Invasion of the Body Snatchers became both a cult classic and a highly influential sci-fier. Its most recent official remake was the poorly received 2007 flop The Invasion, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, and starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. But touches — at times more than just touches — from the story are to be found elsewhere, e.g., Stephenie Meyer’s The Host.
In a 1999 interview for Starlog magazine, Wynter told sci-fi/horror film historian Tom Weaver:
"It was just supposed to be a plain, thrilling kind of picture. That was what Allied Artists thought they were making. By the way, we realized — Walter and Kevin and people who can think about things — that we were making an anti-"ism" picture. Anti-"ism" — fascism, Communism, all that kind of thing. We took it for granted that’s what we were making, but it wasn’t spoken about openly on the set or anything like that. They were delicate times, and I think that if Allied Artists had had the slightest idea that there was anything deeper to this film, that would have quickly been stopped!"
Now, considering the number of anti-communist movies Hollywood churned out in the ’50s, it’d have been kind of strange to get rid of the underlying message found in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Unless, of course, that underlying message was less about the dangers of communism than about the dangers of political apathy and the anti-Red hysteria of the period. After all, Daniel Mainwaring, who would be a victim of the anti-communist blacklist, wrote the screenplay adaptation.
Anyhow, whether or not it was intentional — original author Jack Finney always claimed his tale was about Pods, not Reds — the multilayered storyline of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the reasons the sci-fier remains as intriguing today as it was more than half a century ago.