With her sandy blonde hair, freckles, fleshy round face, and soft feminine voice, Nancy Malone perfectly embodied the girl-next-door ingénue as an earthier Doris Day. She would slide easily in considering that, in the 50s and 60s when she was in her prime acting years, nearly all of the female roles were housewives or virtuous love interests.
However Malone, who passed away on May 8th at 79 from complications of leukemia, took the road less travelled in her roles, particularly in guest appearances on 60s TV shows. At a time when virtually every major female TV character was confined to the house, Malone played the girlfriend to Paul Burke’s Det. Adam Flint in the superior NYC-based dramatic series Naked City. Her character, Libby, had a life of her own as she was an actress and director. The detectives would occasionally enlist her help for her knowledge of human psychology. But more importantly, they were living together, unmarried (and doing it before Marlo Thomas got more famous for doing it in That Girl)!
In the fourth and final season, the writers gave her more to work with and in quite a few episodes Malone demonstrated a lot of gravitas as the relationship between Libby and Adam became more strained following a revelation that Flint had had an affair.
For the most part of the 60s, Malone had shrewd judgment in choosing guest roles on TV shows, finding complex roles with good scripts. On Dr. Kildare, she forcefully played an intelligent and hard-working breadwinner nurse whose career was stalled by both her dysfunctional family and a con-artist they fell for after her ne’er-do-well father died, milking her finances dry.
In one of the most underrated episodes of The Outer Limits, Malone and Nick Adams are a duo selected to battle aliens to save humankind. This episode is more philosophical and bittersweet than most of the apocalyptic drivel cluttering the big and small screens today. Although Adams receives top billing, Malone’s character is the heart of the piece as it becomes more about her journey of learning that she can’t save the bad-boy gambler Adams from himself and to find the strength to save humanity on her own.
My favorite performance is on one of the most criminally neglected TV shows, Run For Your Life. Malone is perfectly cast against type as a cold and ruthless criminal stealing the identity of a girl from her small home town (Joanna Moore). She and the morally conflicted Moore (who is blackmailing Malone) share a couple of excellent scenes as we see two intelligent and articulate women sparring, something we don’t see often in scenes other than fighting over a man.
Even in virtuous good-girl roles like her second appearance on The Fugitive, Malone plays them with a refreshing unsentimentality and gives them strong, resilient personalities.
Malone, like many of her female colleagues, was dismayed by the lack of good roles for women. During the 1970s, Malone got her start as a junior executive producer at Tomorrow Entertainment, a company newly formed by former ABC executive Thomas Moore, at a significant pay cut. Malone used her position to try to court original scripts, though many times she was ignored, like when she pitched hard for George Lucas’ American Graffiti but the brass passed.
After developing the successful TV Movie Winner Take All, about a female gambler (Shirley Jones), Malone became the first female vice-president at a major studio, as the head of TV development for 20th Century Fox. She went on to form her own production company, Lilac Entertainment, a few years later.
In the 1980s until the early 2000s, Malone primarily focused her efforts towards directing, where she helmed episodes of shows like Dynasty, Star Trek: Voyager, and Dawson’s Creek. Her most historically significant directorial effort was the 1985 PBS TV movie There Were Times, Dear, which was the first TV film about Alzheimer’s.
In addition to advocating for strong roles for women, Malone was a tireless champion for helping women break into executive and directorial positions, co-founding a nonprofit organization Women in Film.
On a personal note, I was very touched when Ms. Malone took time out of her busy schedule to answer a lot of questions I had relating to her experiences about her stint on the show Run For Your Life.
She remained active right until her death, with an independent feature film she executive produced, Little Miss Perfect, currently in post-production.