Nina Foch, best remembered as an acting teacher and for her role as Gene Kelly’s “sponsor” in the Oscar-winning MGM musical An American in Paris (1951), died of complications of long-term myelodysplasia, a blood disorder, on Friday, Dec. 5, at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Foch was 84.
According to the Los Angeles Times obit, Foch became ill Thursday while teaching “Directing the Actor” at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, where she had been teaching for 40 years. Among her former students are Randal Kleiser, Amy Heckerling, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz.
She was born Nina Consuelo Maud Fock in Leiden, The Netherlands, on April 20, 1924 – her father was Dutch composer-conductor Dirk Fock; her mother was American Broadway performer Consuelo Flowerton (she has a supporting role in the 1921 version of Camille, starring Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino). The young Nina Fock eventually moved with her mother to New York, where she enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and studied Method acting with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler.
Her film career began in the early 1940s, at which point she changed her name – for obvious reasons – to Nina Foch (generally pronounced as if the Dutch-born actress were French: FOH-che). Before playing the part of the Older Woman who loses Gene Kelly to Leslie Caron in the Vincente Minnelli-directed An American in Paris, Nina Foch had several important roles in well-respected B-film noirs at Columbia: My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), directed by Joseph H. Lewis, in which Foch’s young secretary becomes enmeshed in a plot to cover up a murder; Robert Rossen’s Johnny O’Clock (1947), starring Dick Powell and Evelyn Keyes; Rudolph Maté’s The Dark Past (1948), opposite William Holden; and The Undercover Man (1949), again under Joseph H. Lewis’ direction, as Glenn Ford’s leading lady.
Foch played mostly supporting roles throughout the 1950s – Scaramouche (as Marie Antoinette), Sombrero, The Ten Commandments – earning a surprising Oscar nomination in 1954 for her not-at-all memorable role as a secretary in Robert Wise’s all-star melo Executive Suite (right, with William Holden), for which she also received the National Board of Review best supporting actress award.
At an American in Paris screening that I attended at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the mid-1990s, Foch claimed that she would have gotten a supporting actress Oscar nod for An American in Paris as well, if only they hadn’t left her best dramatic scene on the cutting-room floor for fear that it would have made her character too sympathetic while turning Kelly’s grinning American into too much of a jerk.
Foch also appeared on Broadway, reportedly served as George Stevens’ (uncredited) assistant director in The Diary of Anne Frank, and was cast in a number of television shows, including MacMillan & Wife, the miniseries War and Remembrance (1989) and Dharma & Greg. She was nominated for an Emmy as best supporting actress in a drama series for the 1980 “Hollywood” episode of Lou Grant.
Additionally, she ran her own actor’s studio in Beverly Hills.