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Barbara Bel Geddes


Barbara Bel Geddes, the actress nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her work in the 1948 drama I Remember Mama, has passed away in Northeast Harbor, Maine on August 8, 2005. She was 82.

Steve Kanaly who played Ray Krebbs on the show paid tribute to Barbara - "Barbara was a wonderful person and actress.  We will all miss "Bullets" or "Trixy", two of her funny nicknames.  That the series continues to attract millions of viewers and fans every year will be a tribute to this fine woman's contribution to the entertainment industry"

Born in New York City on October 31, 1922 to noted theatrical designer Norman Bel Geddes, Barbara Bel Geddes spent much of her time growing up backstage in many of New York City’s theaters. Following graduation from a private school, Bel Geddes began acting, first in summer-stock productions and then finally in New York, making her Broadway debut in 1941’s Out Of The Frying Pan.

In 1945, Bel Geddes appeared in the Broadway production of Deep Are The Roots, winning a New York Drama Critics Award for best actress. The following year, she signed a contract with RKO Studios which included a rather unusual stipulation- that she only be committed to one film per year. Bel Geddes’s film debut was opposite Henry Fonda in The Long Night (1947). She followed that up with her Oscar-nominated turn in I Remember Mama (1948), an adaptation of John Van Druten’s play about an immigrant family in San Francisco. She appeared in two more films at the studio – Blood On The Moon (1948) and Caught (1949) – before Howard Hughes, who had purchased RKO in 1948, dropped her because “she wasn’t sexy enough.” Bel Geddes went over to 20th Century Fox Studios to star in two noir films - director Elia Kazan’s classic Panic In The Streets (1950) and Fourteen Hours (1951) with Richard Basehart.

el Geddes left Hollywood and headed back to New York and live theater, originating the role of Maggie The Cat for the 1955 production of Tennessee William’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. She also received rave reviews for the 1961 comedy Mary, Mary. Bel Geddes also received Tony Award nominations for the two shows.

Linda Evans and Barbara Bel Geddes

Bel Geddes did not forsake films entirely. In 1958 she returned to Hollywood to appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. For The Five Pennies (1959), she starred opposite Danny Kaye in the bio-pic of coronet player Red Nichols. After supporting roles in the war drama 5 Branded Women (1960) and John Sturges’s drama By Love Possessed, Bel Gettes once again left Hollywood. She would return a decade later for her final two film appearances- Summertree and The Todd Killings (both 1971).

Bel Geddes retired from acting in 1966 to tend to her husband, Windsor Lewis, who was fighting cancer at the time. He died in 1972. She returned to acting in 1978 as the matriarch of the rowdy Ewing family on the primetime soap opera Dallas, a role that would win her a new generation of fans. She would earn a Best Lead Actress In A Drama Series Emmy Award in 1980 for her work on the show.

Orbituary

Barbara Bel Geddes (October 31st, 1922 - August 8th 2005)

Barbara Bel Geddes, the genteel stage and screen actress best known as Miss Ellie, the forbearing matriarch on the 1970s and '80s television series "Dallas," died Monday at her home in Northeast Harbor, Maine.

The cause of death was lung cancer. She was 82.

Long before sighing through the misdeeds of her Texas brood at TV's fictional South Fork, Miss Bel Geddes originated the role of Maggie, the caustic, sexually starved wife in Tennessee Williams' 1955 Broadway play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." She earned an Oscar nomination for the 1948 film "I Remember Mama" and played James Stewart's plucky girlfriend in Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 "Vertigo." In a memorable 1958 episode of TV's "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," Miss Bel Geddes played a housewife who murders her unfaithful husband with a frozen leg of lamb, roasts the murder weapon and serves it to the detectives.

She was born into a theatrical family in 1922 in New York City. Her father was the noted theatrical set designer and architect Norman Bel Geddes. Educated at private schools, she made her stage debut at 18, in a summer-stock production of "The School for Scandal." A year later, Miss Bel Geddes was on Broadway, in "Out of the Frying Pan." She won the first Clarence Derwent Award, a prize for outstanding young performers, as well as a New York Drama Critics Award, for "Deep Are the Roots" (1945).

Miss Bel Geddes made her feature film debut, opposite Henry Fonda and Vincent Price, in the "The Long Night" (1947). She gained wider acclaim as the daughter-narrator of "I Remember Mama," the memoir of a Norwegian immigrant family living in San Francisco. Other film roles include the 1948 Western "Blood on the Moon," "Caught" (1949) and "Panic in the Streets" (1950). Following her testimony before the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee, Miss Bel Geddes found no work in Hollywood until Hitchcock cast her in "Vertigo."

She overcame Tennessee Williams' misgivings about her appearance to win the role of Maggie in "Cat," according to her cousin Bennett. "He (Williams) told her she was too homespun," said Bennett. "But (director Elia) Kazan said that since everyone in this play is so horrible, we need someone people can relate to."

It was that quality of warm, grounded likability that Miss Bel Geddes brought to Miss Ellie, the "Dallas" role she originated in 1978. For the years she played the part, Miss Bel Geddes may have been the most famous and long- suffering public mother in America. With her wistful, enigmatic smiles and level-headed advice about all things dysfunctional, her Miss Ellie was the Ewing family's revered and ineffectual moral compass. She won an Emmy in 1980.

Miss Bel Geddes became embroiled in an offscreen soap opera plot after Donna Reed replaced her as Miss Ellie in 1984. Miss Bel Geddes had withdrawn to have heart surgery. Viewers never accepted Reed in the role. When Miss Bel Geddes returned to the series in 1985, Reed sued the producers and settled out of court. Miss Bel Geddes played Miss Ellie until 1990 but acted very little over the last 15 years of her life.

Bennett remembered his cousin as a modest, nature-loving woman who "loved ducks and geese and ravens. She got after me once when I complained about the pigeons."

Miss Bel Geddes was married twice, first to engineer Carl Schreuer, from 1944-51, and then to Broadway director Windsor Lewis, from 1951 until his death in 1972. She is survived by two daughters, Susan and Betsy.


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