Verna Bloom, the actress who played the dean’s debauched wife Marion Wormer in “Animal House” and Jesus’ mother in “The Last Temptation of Christ,” has died at 80.
Bloom died Wednesday in Bar Harbor, Maine, of complications from dementia, according to family spokesman Mike Kaplan, who said she was surrounded by family including her husband of 49 years, former film critic and two-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jay Cocks, and their son Sam.
Bloom was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, and graduated from Boston University in 1959.
She made her film debut in 1969 in writer/director Haskell Wexler’s “Medium Cool,” playing a young Appalachian mother caught up in the street violence of Chicago’s 1968 Democratic National Convention. She was nominated as both best actress and best supporting actress by the National Society of Film Critics for the role.
Her acting career included collaborations with director Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood.
Alongside Willem Dafoe’s Jesus, Bloom starred as Mary in Scorsese’s 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ.” She also appeared in two other films with her friend Scorsese: 1970’s “Street Scenes” and 1985’s “After Hours.”
She starred as Eastwood’s lover in the 1973 Western “High Plains Drifter.” She also appeared with him in 1982’s “Honkytonk Man.”
On TV, she appeared on “The Equalizer,” “Cagney & Lacey,” “Kojak” and “Bonanaza.” Her final appearance was on an 2003 episode of “The West Wing.”
But Bloom was most famous for her scene-stealing role in the 1978 comedy “Animal House” that starred John Belushi. She played the wife of Faber College’s Dean Wormer. As the dean obsessed about kicking the film’s Delta Chi fraternity off campus, Marion Wormer had drunken romp with fraternity rush chairman Eric “Otter” Stratton (Tim Matheson).
Matheson described Bloom as acting “nobility” who had to work with unknowns on the set of “Animal House.” But she jumped in and captured the “mischievous, dangerous character,” he said, even pulling out a real flask while preparing to shoot their party seduction scene.
“She said that Bobby De Niro had told her that, when doing a drunk scene, you have to have just the slightest bit of the feeling of what it’s really like, then exaggerate it,” Matheson said. “She used the flask to help get her in the mood.”
The scene was filled with improvisational moments, including Mrs. Wormer’s jacket falling off a hanger. Bloom worked with it and capped the scene off by kicking each heel off dramatically before falling into bed. Director John Landis added the sound of glass breaking after the second shoe landed.
“She found the perfect button and final comedic laugh for the scene, kicking her shoe into the air,” Matheson said. “She was a delight to work with and breathtakingly funny.”
Bloom was “exhilarated” acting with the “crazy kids” on the movie, according to her husband. “Many of them stayed friends for years after, and the periodic ‘Animal House’ reunions were, even though everyone was older, equally exuberant. Every movie was an adventure for her, but ‘Animal House,’ no contest, was by far the funniest.”