Sonia Darrin, femme fatale in Humphrey Bogart’s ‘The Big Sleep’ and mother of Mason Reese, dead at 96

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Sonia Darrin, an actress from Hollywood’s golden era who is best known for appearing in the 1946 film “The Big Sleep” alongside Humphrey Bogart, has died, Fox News has confirmed. She was 96.

Her son, former child star Mason Reese, told us on Thursday Darrin passed away on the afternoon of July 19 of natural causes at a hospital in New York City. He shared Darrin had been slow to recover from a broken hip she suffered in a fall just a month prior.

“She fell and broke the hip, which, unfortunately, is often the beginning of the end for the elderly people,” Reese said. “And up until then, she lived alone.”

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“If you go on Twitter and you type in her name, dude it’s on fire. It’s crazy how many people loved the whole film noir kind of thing. You know, that genre of movie,’” Reese raved of his mother’s polarizing effect.

“I mean, it’s really amazing. My mom would be laughing about it if she saw this,” he continued. “Every time she would get a piece of fan mail — while on one hand she was overwhelmed about it you know. But she would look at me and laugh and she’d be like, ‘Why? Why do they want my autograph? The autograph on a photo? Why do they want that?’”

Born Sonia Paskowitz on June 16, 1924, in Galveston, Texas, Darrin told the New York Post in 2016 she fell in love with movies at age six.

“My father had a business right next door to a theater in Galveston, and every time they had a new movie, I would go in and see it for free,” she told the outlet in a rare interview.

American actors (left-right): Humphrey Bogart, Sonia Darrin, and Louis Jean Heydt (1905 - 1960) in a still from the film, 'The Big Sleep,' directed by Howard Hawks, 1946.

American actors (left-right): Humphrey Bogart, Sonia Darrin, and Louis Jean Heydt (1905 – 1960) in a still from the film, ‘The Big Sleep,’ directed by Howard Hawks, 1946.
(Photo by Warner Bros./American Stock/Getty Images)

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The family eventually moved to Pasadena, Calif. During her teenage years, she took dancing lessons from Adolph Baum.

In 1941, Darrin lied about her age to get an interview with LeRoy Prinz, head dance director for Warner Bros.

“[He] was a notorious womanizer,” she recalled to the New York Post. “He agreed to hire me, and then he said, ‘Oh, by the way, I have some bankers coming in from New York City. Would you go out with them tonight?’ I was so naive I said yes, but when my mother said, ‘Absolutely, no!’ Prinz hired me anyway to appear as a chorine in ‘The Hard Way’ with Joan Leslie and Ida Lupino.

“Mostly I worked for Fox, sometimes for MGM, usually less than five days on any picture,” she shared. “You can spot me in the chorus line in ‘My Gal Sal’ (1942 with Rita Hayworth. I also danced as a Russian peasant in ‘The North Star’ (1943) and I went to Paramount for ‘Lady in the Dark’ (1944).”

Darrin also played a nightclub patron in the 1941 musical “It Started with Eve” with teen star Deanna Durbin, as well as a villager in the 1943 horror flick “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.”

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Durbin said she was later called in to do hair and makeup tests for the role of gangster girlfriend Agnes in “The Big Sleep.”

“All the other girls were very aggressive, and I wanted to show them what a nice girl I was,” she explained. “[Producer-director Howard Hawks] hated my test, which usually meant you were in the trash. But then he personally supervised the hairdo for another test and I got the part.”

Darrin was 22 when she shared the screen with Bogart.

American actors (left - right): Humphrey Bogart, Sonia Darrin, and Louis Jean Heydt (1905 - 1960) in a still from the film, 'The Big Sleep,' directed by Howard Hawks, 1946.

American actors (left – right): Humphrey Bogart, Sonia Darrin, and Louis Jean Heydt (1905 – 1960) in a still from the film, ‘The Big Sleep,’ directed by Howard Hawks, 1946.
(Warner Bros./American Stock/Getty Images)

“Bogart was very kind, polite and helpful to me,” she said.

Darrin added that when it came to producing the film noir there were no rehearsals and Hawks gave minimal direction for her to rely on.

“One time he asked me to make it a little sharper,” she said. “Hawks was very accommodating and complimentary. But I got into a lot of trouble for being a wisea—.”

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Darrin’s last credited role was that of Mildred in the 1950 film “Federal Agent at Large.” The Hollywood Reporter noted she quit Hollywood and then moved to New York where she modeled for the Eileen Ford agency.

Reese said Darrin kept a low profile over the years and had no idea how much of a cult classic “The Big Sleep” became over the years.

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“She would be flabbergasted when she would receive a letter in the mail,” he said.

Darrin previously told the New York Post she enjoyed watching old Hollywood films on Turner Classic Movies.

“Marlene Dietrich had the right idea,” she said at the time. “At a certain point, you keep photographers away from your door and let people remember you like you were.”

Reese told Fox News that his mother remained a beautiful soul and woman to her dying day.

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“Yeah, and she really was truly a beautiful woman. And even really, on the day of her death, I mean, she was so beautiful,” he recalled. “She was very thin and very weak … but it was still a beautiful woman in there. It’s kind of amazing. I never looked at her that way. I just looked at her as my mom, you know.”

He maintained that Darrin played an integral part in his career, often shielding him from the perils of Hollywood that could rear its head at any turn.

“She was a major influence on my career and obviously protected me, looked out for my best interests at all times, which is what a mother slash manager does,” he said. “You’ve got to have an advocate — someone who can speak on your behalf – you know, and protect you. And truthfully, I mean, agents will do that but it’s not the same.”



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