Obituary: Olympe Bradna / French-born dancer and actress

Aug. 12, 1920 - Nov. 5, 2012

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Olympe Bradna, a French-born dancer and actress who charmed Broadway as a child star of Paris' touring Folies Bergere and appeared in Hollywood films opposite Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan before trading stardom for life as a wife and mother, died on Nov. 5 in Stockton, Calif. She was 92.

Her death was confirmed by her son, Douglass Wilhoit Jr.

Ms. Bradna was about 15 when Walter Winchell proclaimed her Broadway's newest It Girl after seeing her perform and meeting her (and her mother) backstage at the French Casino theater in 1935. "She has more appeal than Myrna Loy," he wrote in his nationally syndicated column. "She's the life of the party. A lotta 'umph'!"

A.J. Liebling gave her a more writerly close-up in The New York World-Telegram. She was the child of once-prominent circus acrobats, he explained. From early childhood, they had subjected her to a relentless training regimen, promoting her career with all the desperate hope born of a terminal "period of ebb" in their own professional fortunes. Their hopes were apparently realized.

"Doing her specialty acrobatic dance in a sailor suit," Liebling wrote, she was "the tiny dancer who invariably stops the show."

"Her brown eyes," he added, "reflected a limitless ambition."

Her press clips recorded the pluses and minuses of child stardom in the 1930s. Ms. Bradna loved going to the movies; loved Greta Garbo, Betty Boop and Claudette Colbert. She also loved "to eat of conserved pineapples, pears and peaches in tins," she said, meaning canned fruit.

She hated men who pawed her. "Because I be French, everybody thinks he can pinch me and say ooh-la-la," she was quoted as saying in a 1937 interview. By then she had been in Hollywood for more than two years, signed to a contract with Paramount and featured as the earnest ingenue in a series of films that never achieved much success.

In 1936 she appeared in two lighthearted movies, "Three Cheers for Love" and "College Holiday," and landed her first serious role, in "The Last Train From Madrid," released the following year, with Dorothy Lamour and Lew Ayres. In 1937, she appeared with Gary Cooper and George Raft in "Souls at Sea," about a mutiny on a slave ship.

Ms. Bradna made seven more films, including "Say It in French" (1938), with Ray Milland, and "International Squadron," starring Ronald Reagan, which was released in 1941, the year she married Douglass Wilhoit Sr., the scion of a California agriculture and real estate fortune. It was her last movie.

"My mom had been working since she was 8, and she had had enough," her son said. "She wanted to have a life of her own."

Antoinette Olympe Bradna was born in Paris on Aug. 12, 1920. She made her stage debut at 8 in the French version of the American musical "Hit the Deck." By 13 she was performing with the Folies Bergere.

After leaving Hollywood, she became active in charitable organizations.

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