Oscar Actors: O’Neil, Barbara–Supporting Actress, All This, and Heaven Too

Barbara O’Neil, the American film and stage actress, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent her childhood mostly in Europe and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College.

She began her acting career in summer stock.  In July 1931 Bretaigne Windust, Charles Leatherbee, and Joshua Logan, the directors of the University Players, a three-year-old summer stock company at West Falmouth on Cape Cod, were looking for a leading lady for their repertory season that winter in Baltimore.  They auditioned and hired O’Neil, then a talented student at the Yale School of Drama. 

Romances born of the University Players led to three marriages: actress Margaret Sullavan to Henry Fonda for a few months in 1932, director-actor Joshua Logan’s younger sister Mary Lee Logan to Charles Leatherbee, and Logan himself to Barbara O’Neil, which lasted only a brief period.  O’Neil never remarried.

She made her Broadway debut in a 1932 play about Carrie Nation. Her other stage credits include Madam Serena Merle in a Broadway adaptation of The Portrait of a Lady in 1954.

In 1937 O’Neil debuted in the film Stella Dallas, starring Stanwyck.  

In 1939, she was cast in the role of Ellen O’Hara, Scarlett O’Hara’s mother, in (she was only 3 years older than her onscreen “daughter,” Vivien Leigh). 

The following year, she appeared in and was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role of the domineering and jealous Duchesse de Praslin (married to Charles Boyer in the film).

Her other films include I Remember Mama (1948), and two of director Preminger‘s films, Whirlpool (1949) and Angel Face (1952). She also appeared in Zinnemann’s The Nun’s Story (1959), starring Audrey Hepburn.

O’Neil died of heart attack at the age of 70 on September 3, 1980.