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Joanna Barnes, actress in 'The Parent Trap' and its remake, dies at 87
In 1961, she played a vixenish fortune hunter. In 1998, she played the character’s mother. In between, she kept busy on TV and also wrote novels.

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK, NY.- Joanna Barnes, whose many screen roles included the conniving fiancee of a divorced father in the 1961 film “The Parent Trap” and, 37 years later, the character’s mother in the remake — and who, while still enjoying success as an actress, embarked on a successful second career as a writer — died April 29 at her home in The Sea Ranch, California. She was 87.

The cause was cancer, her friend Sally Jackson said.

Barnes’ role in the hit Disney movie “The Parent Trap” was part of her busy first five years in Hollywood, which began in television on series including “Playhouse 90” and “Cheyenne” and then advanced to supporting roles in “Auntie Mame” (1958), opposite Rosalind Russell, and “Tarzan, the Ape Man” (1959), which starred Denny Miller in the title role.

Life magazine featured Barnes in a photo spread that promoted “Tarzan.”

“The silk-clad debutante, above, and the barelegged tree climber at right are the same — Miss Joanna Barnes of Boston and Hollywood,” the article said in part. “She is the latest and, MGM insists, the brainiest of the 20 girls who have played Jane, the genteel Englishwoman in the Tarzan films.”

In “The Parent Trap” (1961), starring Hayley Mills in the dual role of long-separated twin sisters who meet and conspire to reunite their divorced parents, Barnes played the vixenish fortune hunter dating the girls’ father, played by Brian Keith. When the film was remade 37 years later with Lindsay Lohan as its star, Barnes played the mother of her former character, who was portrayed by Elaine Hendrix.

“She had no judgment about being in a remake,” Nancy Meyers, the director of the film, said in a phone interview. “And she was one of those people who, after you say, ‘Cut!,’ you want to keep talking to her.”

Barnes never became a major star and in the 1960s she began to find diversions from acting.

In 1967 she hosted the ABC television series “Dateline: Hollywood,” on which she took viewers behind the scenes on studio tours and interviewed stars. She wrote a syndicated column, "Touching Home," and a book, “Starting From Scratch” (1968), about interior decorating.

Her first novel, “The Deceivers” (1970), was a sexy Hollywood exposé that swirled around a former child actress and the powerful people in her orbit.

“Joanna Barnes is Jacqueline Susann with a brain,” critic John Leonard wrote in The New York Times, referring to the author of the saucy 1966 saga “Valley of the Dolls.” He added, “A few of the characters in ‘The Deceivers’ seem to have been stamped out of stale saltines; the sex grows like grass between each block of plot; and, as in too many first novels, everything gets resolved at a big party. But Miss Barnes is an excellent guide for tourists in the land of the plastic cactus.”

She also wrote the novels “Who Is Carla Hart?” (1973); “Pastora” (1980), about a 19th-century woman’s rise in San Francisco society, which was a New York Times paperback bestseller; and “Silverwood” (1985).

“Acting and writing feed each other,” she told The Associated Press. “When I’m beginning to feel confined at writing, I take time out for acting.”

And socializing. In 1971, she briefly dated Henry Kissinger, who was President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser at the time. When Maxine Cheshire of The Washington Post reported that she and Kissinger had attended a party in Hollywood together, she noted that Barnes had written “The Deceivers,” “which Kissinger hasn’t read.”

Barnes was born in Boston on Nov. 15, 1934, and raised in Hingham, Massachusetts. Her father, John, was an insurance executive, and her mother, Alice (Mutch) Barnes, was a homemaker. She studied English at Smith College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1956 — the year she earned her first screen credit in the TV series “Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers.”

In 1961, she was booted from the Boston Social Register, which, she told The St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times, did not approve of actors. She had just been in the hit movie “Spartacus,” starring Kirk Douglas.

“Played a degenerate Roman lady,” she said. “Delicious part.”

Over the next three decades she was seen on many TV series, including “Bachelor Father,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Love American Style,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Trapper John, M.D.” In the 1965-66 season she was a regular on “The Trials of O’Brien,” a short-lived series about a defense lawyer, played by Peter Falk. She played his ex-wife.

She is survived by her stepdaughters, Laura and Louise Warner; her stepson, John Warner; and her sisters, Lally Barnes Freeman and Judith Barnes Wood. Her marriages to Richard Herndon and Lawrence Dobkin ended in divorce.Her marriage to Jack Lionel Warner also ended.

For all her success on the screen, her interest in acting had faded — until the remake of “The Parent Trap” came along.

“Her part was small but memorable, and I definitely didn’t need to tell her how to play it,” Meyers wrote in an email. “She knew exactly what to do and played it to the hilt.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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