Oscar Actors: Bel Geddes, Barbara–Obituary

Aug 10, 2005–Barbara Bel Geddes, who played Miss Ellie Ewing in the long-running TV series “Dallas,” died Monday of lung cancer in Northeast Harbor, Maine. She was 82.

Bel Geddes, daughter of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, was nominated for an Oscar Award for best supporting actress for the 1948 drama “I Remember Mama.” She was the original Maggie the Cat on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a role that went to Liz Taylor in the 1958 movie version.

TV’s Dallas

Coming out of retirement because she needed money following her husband’s long illness, which depleted her savings, Bel Geddes won an Emmy in 1980 for her role in “Dallas” as best lead actress in a drama series and remains the only nighttime soap star to be so honored.

In March 1984, Bel Geddes was stricken with a major heart attack, so Miss Ellie was played by Donna Reed for six months before Bel Geddes returned to “Dallas,” remaining until 1990, a year before CBS canceled the show.

Born in New York, her first role was a walk-on with Ethel Barrymore in “The School for Scandal” at a summer theater. Her father helped land her Broadway debut in the 1941 “Out of the Frying Pan,” for which a critic called her “plump, pleasing and amusing.” She dropped 20 pounds and continued in a variety of roles until making a splash on Broadway at 23 with her first important role, in “Deep Are the Roots,” winning the New York Drama Critics Award as best actress.

In 1946, she signed a contract with RKO that granted her unusual request to be committed to only one picture a year. In her first movie, she co-starred with Henry Fonda in “The Long Night,” a disappointing remake of a French film.

But during her film career, Bel Geddes was able to work with such filmmakers as Elia Kazan (“Panic in the Streets”) and Alfred Hitchcock (“Vertigo”). She also co-starred with Danny Kaye in “The Five Pennies” and with Jeanne Moreau in “Five Branded Women.”

Her biggest Broadway success was “Mary, Mary,” a frothy marital comedy by Jean Kerr, which opened in 1961 and ran for more than 1,500 performances. Among her other major theater credits were roles in “The Sleeping Prince”; Robert Anderson’s “Silent Night, Holy Night,” which co-starred Henry Fonda; and Edward Albee’s “Everything in the Garden.”