Verna Bloom, an actress whose career in film took her from the real streets of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention through the slapstick campus of Faber College and the hill of Golgotha, died Jan. 9, 2019, after a long illness. She was 80 years old.
The cause was complications of dementia, her family stated.
Although she appeared extensively in theater and television, she is most noted for her film work. She appeared in three films by Martin Scorsese — “Street Scenes 1970,” “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “After Hours” — and two by Clint Eastwood: “The High Plains Drifter” and “Honkytonk Man.” Her film debut was in 1969, in Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool,” in which she played a young Appalachian mother caught up in the street violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
“She was not only a wonderful actress,” Wexler said. “She was fearless. I was more frightened than she was.” Wexler inserted her character into the real and threatening turmoil unfolding on the streets, filming the fiction as if it were a documentary, but after the first day, out of concern for her safety, he did not want her to return. She insisted, and prevailed. The image of her in a yellow dress searching for her lost son among the protesters, tear gas, tanks and armed soldiers, has become an indelible artifact of those divisive times.
Bloom was born in Lynn, Mass., in 1938. After graduating from Boston University, she moved to Denver and started a local theater, where she helped produce and stage a number of modern classics, including “Look Back in Anger” and “A Taste of Honey.” Moving to New York in the mid-1960s, she starred as Charlotte Corday in the Broadway revival of “Marat/Sade” and, shortly after, on the recommendation of the writer/historian Studs Terkel, was cast by Wexler in “Medium Cool.”
Following the release of that film, she appeared in Peter Fonda’s elegiac Western “The Hired Hand” — a personal favorite of hers — and later, in the role for which she is most popularly known, as the drunken debauched wife of the beleaguered Dean Wormer in John Landis’s “Animal House.” She followed the surprising but breakaway success of that film with two more films by her close friend Scorsese, and then fulfilled a lifelong dream by starring with Frank Sinatra in the two-part television film “Contract on Cherry Street.”
She is survived by her husband of 49 years, the screenwriter Jay Cocks, and her son Sam, a prosecutor in the Special Victims Bureau of the New York County District Attorney’s Office.
Her family requests that any contributions be made online in her name to Bonaparte’s Retreat Dog Rescue. Condolences to the family may be expressed at BrookingsSmith.com.