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Voice of 'Cruella De Vil' dies

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 15 -- Betty Lou Gerson, who provided the voices of 'Cruella De Vil' in the 1961 Walt Disney classic '101 Dalmatians' and Francis the fish diva in the 1997 film 'Cats Don't Dance' has died in Los Angeles after suffering a massive stroke. She was 84. Gerson began her radio career in 1935 and was dubbed the 'Soap Opera Queen of Chicago' for her work on the radio programs 'First Nighter,' 'Grand Hotel' and 'The Lux Radio Theater.' After moving to Los Angeles in the 1940s with her first husband, radio producer Joe Ainley, she began working in TV and film. Her TV credits included 'The Twilight Zone,' 'The Dick Van Dyke Show,' 'Perry Mason,' 'The Untouchables' and '77 Sunset Strip,' while her film credits included 'Undercover Girl,' 'An Annapolis Story,' 'The Fly' and 'Miracle of the Hills.' Gerson was cast as the narrator of Disney's 1950 animated feature 'Cinderella' and had an on-cameo appearance in 'Mary Poppins.' Disney animator Marc Davis, who designed and animated the character of 'Cruella De Vil,' said, 'Betty Lou's voice was a true inspiration. She had one of those unique voices that gave you something special to work with and which helped me define the character.' She gave up acting to work in the telephone answering service of her second husband, Lou Lauria, after marrying him in 1966. In recent years, she had returned to do voice-over work for Disney and other animation studios. Her voice work in the animated 'Cats Don't Dance' was one of her last roles.

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Gerson is survived by her brother, Fred, and three children by marriage, Lynne, Don and Lou Lauria Jr. Her family has asked that donations be made to the American Cancer Society in lieu of flowers. Plans haven't yet been announced for a memorial service. ---

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Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---

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