Barbara Bel Geddes
|Born||October 31, 1922|
New York City, U.S.
|Died||August 8, 2005 (aged 82)|
Northeast Harbor, Maine, U.S.
Barbara Bel Geddes (October 31, 1922 – August 8, 2005) was an American stage and screen actress, artist, and children's author whose career spanned almost five decades. She was best known for her starring role as Miss Ellie Ewing in the television series Dallas. Bel Geddes also starred as Maggie in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. Her notable films included I Remember Mama (1948) and Vertigo (1958). Throughout her career, she was the recipient of several acting awards and nominations.
Bel Geddes was born on October 31, 1922, in New York City, the daughter of Helen Belle (née Schneider; 1891–1938) and stage and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes (1893–1958). She married theatrical manager Carl Sawyer (né Schreuer) in 1944; they had one daughter, Susan. They divorced in 1951. Later that year, she married stage director Windsor Lewis, with whom she had a daughter, Betsy. When Lewis became ill in 1967, Bel Geddes suspended her career to care for him; he died in 1972.
Bel Geddes came to prominence in the 1946 Broadway production of Deep Are the Roots. The performance garnered her the Clarence Derwent Award, the Theatre World Award and the Donaldson Award (forerunner of the Tony Awards) presented to her by Laurette Taylor, for "Outstanding Achievement in The Theatre". From 1951 to 1953, Bel Geddes played 924 performances of the F. Hugh Herbert hit comedy The Moon Is Blue. In 1955, she created the role of Maggie "The Cat" in Elia Kazan's original Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and in 1961 created the title role in the Jean Kerr comedy Mary, Mary which became Broadway's longest-running show with over 1,500 performances. Both roles earned her Tony Award nominations. Other highlights include John Steinbeck's Burning Bright, Edward Albee's Everything in the Garden, and Silent Night, Lonely Night with Henry Fonda. She also starred with Michael Redgrave in the Broadway production of The Sleeping Prince. In the film adaptation, retitled The Prince and the Showgirl the roles were reprised by Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier.
In 1952, she received the prestigious "Woman of the Year" award from Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals, America's oldest theater company; in 1993, having appeared in 15 Broadway productions, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame (located in the Gershwin Theatre in New York City), a distinction she shared with her father, stage and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes.
Bel Geddes began her film career starring with Henry Fonda in The Long Night (1947), a remake of the 1939 French film Le jour se lève. "I went out to California awfully young", she said. "I remember Lillian Hellman and Elia Kazan telling me, 'Don't go, learn your craft.' But I loved films." The following year, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the George Stevens film I Remember Mama.
She played Richard Widmark's wife Nancy in Kazan's 1950 film noir Panic in the Streets. In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock cast her with James Stewart in Vertigo as the long-suffering bohemian, Midge. Bel Geddes also starred with Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong in the screen musical The Five Pennies.
When an investigation from the House Un-American Activities Committee had Bel Geddes's name put on the Hollywood blacklist during the 1950s, it stalled her film career for a time, and she carried on with her acting on Broadway and an occasional part on television. Bel Geddes found new opportunity in television when she was cast in four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, including "Lamb to the Slaughter", in which she played a housewife who killed her husband by bludgeoning him to death with a frozen leg of lamb, cooking the murder weapon, and then serving it to the investigating police. She appeared in series such as Playhouse 90, CBS Playhouse, Riverboat, Dr. Kildare, and Death Valley Days. In 1977, she starred in the highly acclaimed production of the Thornton Wilder classic Our Town with Hal Holbrook.
In 1978, Bel Geddes was the first artist signed to star in Dallas. The role of the family matriarch, Miss Ellie, brought her renewed international recognition. She appeared in many episodes, in almost every season of the series, for a total of 276 episodes from 1978 to 1990 (she was absent from the 1984–85 and 1990–91 seasons) and remains the only cast member to win the Emmy Award (Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Drama Series) and the Golden Globe (List of Golden Globe Awards: Television, Best Actress, Drama). In 1985, she also received Germany's Golden Camera Award.
Larry Hagman (who was only nine years junior to Bel Geddes), who played J. R. Ewing, told the Associated Press: "She was the rock of Dallas. She was just a really nice woman and a wonderful actress. She was kind of the glue that held the whole thing together." In a later interview for the website "Ultimate Dallas", Hagman said, "The reason I took the show, they said Barbara Bel Geddes is going to play your mother, and I said, 'Well, that's a touch of class, you know,' so of course I wanted to work with her."
In 1971, Bel Geddes underwent a radical mastectomy, which was an experience that she relived while playing Miss Ellie in the 1979–1980 season of Dallas. The performance garnered her the Emmy Award. She was also honored by former First Lady Betty Ford for helping to raise breast cancer awareness.
On March 15, 1983, Bel Geddes narrowly avoided a heart attack, but the media falsely reported that she had had a heart attack. Only days after she had completed filming for the 1982–1983 season, her doctor discovered a condition that required emergency quadruple bypass surgery. She subsequently missed the first 11 episodes of the 1983–1984 season and was replaced with actress Donna Reed for the 1984–1985 season. With her health improved, CBS-TV persuaded Lorimar Productions to return Bel Geddes to the role of Miss Ellie for the 1985–1986 season. Bel Geddes remained in the role until the later stages of the penultimate season of Dallas in 1990.
Bel Geddes retired from acting in 1990 and settled in her home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where she continued to work as a fine artist. She was the author of two children's books, I Like to Be Me and So Do I, as well as the creator of a popular line of greeting cards. Looking back on her career, Bel Geddes told People: "They're always making me play well-bred ladies. I'm not very well bred, and I'm not much of a lady."
Bel Geddes died of lung cancer on August 8, 2005, at her estate in Northeast Harbor, Maine, at the age of 82. Her ashes were scattered from a simple wooden boat into the harbor waters bordering her estate. At the revival of Dallas in 2012, Patrick Duffy (who played her youngest son, Bobby, in the original series) said: "Barbara is a big piece of our history, and it's important to me to honor her." "Through the whole first season, I don't think an episode goes by that Mama is not mentioned in reference to Southfork and the land", he said.
|Start of run||End of run||Title||Role||Notes|
|February 11, 1941||May 10, 1941||Out of the Frying Pan||Dottie Coburn|
|October 27, 1942||November 14, 1942||Little Darling||Cynthia Brown|
|January 13, 1943||January 16, 1943||Nine Girls||Alice|
|March 31, 1944||May 6, 1944||Mrs. January and Mr. X||Wilhelmina|
|September 26, 1945||November 16, 1946||Deep Are the Roots||Genevra Langdon||Winner – Donaldson Award, Theatre World Award, Clarence Derwent Award|
|October 18, 1950||October 28, 1950||Burning Bright||Mordeen|
|March 8, 1951||May 30, 1953||The Moon Is Blue||Patty O'Neill|
|November 17, 1954||December 4, 1954||The Living Room||Rose Pemberton|
|March 24, 1955||November 17, 1956||Cat on a Hot Tin Roof||Maggie||Nominated – Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play|
|November 1, 1956||December 22, 1956||The Sleeping Prince||Marchy|
|December 3, 1959||March 19, 1960||Silent Night, Lonely Night||Katherine|
|March 8, 1961||December 12, 1964||Mary, Mary||Mary McKellaway||Nominated – Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play|
|November 11, 1964||January 7, 1967||Luv||Ellen Manville|
|November 29, 1967||February 10, 1968||Everything in the Garden||Jenny|
|February 8, 1973||June 30, 1973||Finishing Touches||Katy Cooper|
|1947||The Long Night||Jo Ann|
|1948||I Remember Mama||Katrin Hanson||Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|Blood on the Moon||Amy Lufton|
|1950||Panic in the Streets||Nancy Reed|
|1951||Fourteen Hours||Virginia Foster|
|1959||The Five Pennies||Willa Stutsman|
|1960||Five Branded Women||Marja|
|1961||By Love Possessed||Clarissa Winner|
|The Todd Killings||Mrs. Todd|
|1950||Robert Montgomery Presents||Rebecca de Winter / Tracy Samantha Lord||2 episodes|
|Pulitzer Prize Playhouse||Bethel Merriday||1 episode: "Bethel Merriday"|
|The Nash Airflyte Theater||Molly Morgan||1 episode: "Molly Morgan"|
|1954||The Campbell Playhouse||1 episode: "XXXXX Isn't Everything"|
|1957||Schlitz Playhouse of Stars||Marcia||2 episodes|
|1957–1958||Studio One||Charlotte Lamb||2 episodes|
|1958||Playhouse 90||Sidney Cantrell||1 episode: "Rumors of Evening"|
|Decision||Marcia||1 episode: "Fifty Beautiful Girls"|
|The United States Steel Hour||Lily Barton||1 episode: "Mid-Summer"|
|1959||Riverboat||Missy Belle||1 episode: "Payment in Full"|
|1960||Dow Hour of Great Mysteries||1 episode: "The Burning Court"|
|1958–1960||Alfred Hitchcock Presents||Lucia Clay/Mary Maloney/Helen Brewster/Sybilla Meade||4 episodes: "The Foghorn", "Lamb to the Slaughter", "The Morning of the Bride", "Sybilla"|
|1965||Dr. Kildare||Dr. Ruth Halliman||1 episode: "A Miracle for Margaret"|
|1968||CBS Playhouse||Doris Gray||1 episode: "Secrets"|
|1969||Journey to the Unknown||Inga Madison||1 episode: "The Madison Equation"|
|Daniel Boone||Molly Malone||1 episode: "Sweet Molly Malone"|
|1976||Spencer's Pilots||Maggie||1 episode: "The Search"|
|1977||Our Town||Mrs. Webb||TV movie|
|1978–1990||Dallas||Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow||281 episodes|
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1980)
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama (1982)
Goldene Kamera for Best actress on television (1985)
Soap Opera Digest Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Mature Role in a Prime Time Soap Opera (1984)
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (1979, 1981)
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama (1980,1981)
Nominated – Soap Opera Digest Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Mature Role on a Prime Time Serial (1986, 1988), (final appearance)
Bel Geddes made her feature debut in "The Long Night" (1947) as an ingenue romanced by both Henry Fonda and Vincent Price. The following year, she earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress as the narrator/eldest daughter in "I Remember Mama".