Late-blooming actress made her screen debut at 85




5-10-1925 - 4-4-2013

Besedka Johnson, who was plucked from obscurity and made a star by a movie producer who had spotted her swimming — when she was 85 — has died in Glendale, California, at 87.

The cause of death was complications of a bacterial infection that set in late last year, just as Johnson was celebrating the release of her only film, Starlet, a critically acclaimed low-budget drama in which her character, Sadie, develops an unlikely friendship with a young woman named Jane, played by Dree Hemingway.

In summer 2011, Johnson was swimming laps three times a week at a YMCA in Hollywood as part of her rehabilitation from knee replacement surgery. One day she was spotted by Shih-Ching Tsou, a film executive desperate to find a replacement for a central role in a movie that was set to start filming.

Johnson was flattered to be considered for the part. She read the script and learnt her lines. She was sweet and warm by nature, her character less so. Her performance would require some stretching. She auditioned - and she nailed it.

The film was shot entirely in the San Fernando Valley in the late summer, over 25 intense days. Johnson and Hemingway, the daughter of the actress Mariel Hemingway, became close.

Beatrice Vivian Divic was born in Detroit. She moved to California as a teenager and briefly spent time modelling - and dreamed of becoming an actress. She called herself Besedka in the 1960s, after the name of a dress shop she owned in the valley. For much of her life she practised yoga.

Johnson was the surname of her first husband, a painter, from whom she was divorced in the 1950s. A second marriage also ended in divorce. She is survived by three sons and two grandchildren.

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