‘Animal House’ and ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ Actress Verna Bloom Dies Age 80

By Tiffany Meier

Verna Bloom, who appeared in the 1978 comedy classic “Animal House” and later portrayed Mary in “The Last Temptation of Christ,” has died. She was 80.

Bloom died Wednesday, Jan. 9, in Bar Harbor, Maine, due to complications from dementia, family spokesman Mike Kaplan, told USA Today. She was surrounded by family, including her husband of 49 years, screenwriter Jack Cocks, and their son, Sam.

Bloom’s long career in film, television, and on stage spanned a wide range of roles in drama and comedy. Her career began with her screen debut in Wexler’s documentary-style 1969 film, “Medium Cool.” In it, she portrayed a single mother from West Virginia who gets caught up in the street violence of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention.

Writer-director-cinematographer Wexler inserted Bloom into the violence, and the image of her in a yellow dress searching for her lost son among the protesters, tear gas, tanks, and armed soldiers became an indelible artifact of those divisive times.

“She was not only a wonderful actress, she was fearless,” Wexler once said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “I was more frightened than she was.”

She was nominated as both best actress and best supporting actress by the National Society of Film Critics for the role, according to USA Today.

While filming “Medium Cool,” Bloom and co-star Marianna Hill were inadvertently caught up in the violence and mayhem surrounding the real-life Democratic National Convention. Hill spoke about it in a 2016 interview with Shaun Chang. One night, after filming, the two were walking in a park and a policeman “came running after us.” He thought they were call-girls “because we had these shapely figures.” When Bloom tried reasoning with the policeman, she ended up being handcuffed while Hill made a run for it.

Two hours later when she arrived at the Sherman House hotel, she got “all these calls and Haskell [Wexler] said, ‘Where have you been? Marianna, have you abandoned Verna?…’We’ve got to bail her out!’ and I said, ‘She did nothing! All we did was take a stroll!’ So it was a big scandal,” she said.

Studs Terkel, who was consulting and advising Wexler during the making “Medium Cool,” wrote “a wonderful story about two girls walking in the park and getting arrested for just being girls. It was a cause célèbre and was in the headlines in the Chicago Sun-Times for about two weeks.”

Bloom was most famous for her scene-stealing role in the 1978 comedy “Animal House,” playing the wife of Faber College’s Dean Wormer. She also appeared in three films by Martin Scorsese—documentary “Street Scenes 1970,” “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) where she played Mary, and in the 1985 comedy, “After Hours.” She was the Clint Eastwood’s love interst in “High Plains Drifter” (1973) and again joined him in “Honkytonk Man” (1982).

On the television side, Bloom was the mother of Linda Blair’s character in the 1975 NBC TV movie “Sarah T.—Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic.” She also appeared in “The Hired Hand” (1971), directed by and starring Peter Fonda, and Howard W. Koch’s “Badge 373” (1973), starring Robert Duvall.

According to Variety, she also fulfilled a lifelong dream by starring with Frank Sinatra in the two-part TV film “Contract on Cherry Street” (1977), another NBC movie drama. She also made appearances in “The Equalizer” (1988-1989), “Cagney & Lacey” (1987), “Kojak” (1976), and “Bonanza” (1969), according to IMDb.

Her final appearance was in a 2003 episode of “The West Wing.”

The actress was born Aug. 7, 1938 in Lynn, Mass., and graduated from Boston University in 1959, according to Deadline. After that, she moved to Denver, where she founded a local theater and produced local productions of “Look Back in Anger” and “A Taste of Honey.”

From there, she went on to Broadway, where she debuted in the 1967 “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of Marquis De Sade,” also known as Marat/Sade. She starred as Charlotte Corday, according to Variety.

She is survived by her husband Jay Cocks, a former film critic and two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter for his work on Scorsese’s “The Age of Innocence” (1993), and “Gangs of New York” (2002). The two married in 1972. She is also survived by her son, Sam, a prosecutor in the Special Victims Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, according to THR.