Oscar Actors: Hartman, Elizabeth

Career Summary:

Age at stage debut: teenager

Age at Broadway debut: 21

Age at screen debut: 22

Oscar recoginition: 1 Best Actress nomination

Other awards: Golden Globe, Promising Actress

Career span: about 15 years, though most films in first decade

Last film: voice in animation; age 39

Death: suicide in 1987, age 43

Mary Elizabeth Hartman was born December 23, 1943, in Youngstown, Ohio, the daughter of Claire (née Mullaly) and B.C. Hartman. She had a sister, Janet, and a brother, William.

Statewide Award for School Production

A standout dramatic student at Boardman High School, she graduated in 1961. She won a statewide award for best actress in a high school production for her performance as Laura in “The Glass Menagerie.”

She performed in several productions at the Youngstown Playhouse during her youth, including A Clearing in the Woods by Arthur Laurents, and Our Town.

Formal Education:

She attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she met her future husband, Gill Dennis, and spent summers acting with the Kenley Players.

Hartman also performed at the Cleveland Playhouse, including The Madwoman of Chaillot and Bus Stop. She moved to New York City and began auditioning for plays there.  In 1964, Hartman played the ingénue lead in the comedy     “Everybody Out, the Castle is Sinking,” which was not a success, but her performance was praised.

A Patch of Blue

In 1964, Hartman was screen-tested by MGM and Warner. In 1964, she was offered a leading role in A Patch of Blue, opposite Sidney Poitier and Shelley Winters. The role also won Hartman a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  At the time, Hartman was the youngest nominee ever (22) in that category.

That same year, she received an achievement award from the National Association of Theater Owners. Hartman also won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year for her performance.

During this time, her father, who worked in construction, died.

In 1966, she starred as Laura opposite Mercedes McCambridge as Amanda in a production of The Glass Menagerie in Pittsburgh.

In January 1967, Hartman had been cast in the role of Neely O’Hara in the movie version of Valley of the Dolls. However, the following month, it was announced that Oscar-winner Patty Duke had signed on to play Neely.

Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, Hartman appeared in 3 major films, two of which starred Geraldine Page, The Group (1966), You’re a Big Boy Now (1966),[14] and The Beguiled (1971).

Portraying Pauline Mullins, the wife of former Sheriff Buford Pusser, she starred in the cult classic and major box office hit Walking Tall (1973).

A decade later she completed recording on 1982’s critically acclaimed animated film The Secret of NIMH, wherein she voiced mouse heroine Mrs. Brisby. She was highly praised for her performance as Mrs. Brisby, but this proved to be her last Hollywood film role.

Hartman’s last on-screen performance was in 1981’s horror-spoof, Full Moon High, where she appeared as Miss Montgomery.

In 1975, Hartman starred in the premiere of Tom Rickman’s Balaam, a play about political intrigue in Washington, D.C. directed by her husband, Gill Dennis.

In 1981, she starred in a touring production of Morning’s at Seven, but left the tour due to declining mental health.

Throughout her life, Hartman suffered from depression. In 1978, she was treated at The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1984, she divorced her husband, screenwriter Gill Dennis, after five-year separation.

In the last few years of her life, she gave up acting altogether and worked at a museum in Pittsburgh.

In 1981, she returned to theater, portraying Myrtle Brown in a regional stage production of “Morning’s at Seven.”

On June 10, 1987, Hartman committed suicide by jumping from the window of her fifth floor apartment. Earlier that morning, she had called her psychiatrist saying that she felt despondent.

Curio Note

Geraldine Page, her co-star on two pictures, and a friend, suffered a sudden heart attack and died three days after Hartman’s passing.

 

Frasier, David K. Suicide in the Entertainment Industry: An Encyclopedia of 840 Twentieth Century Cases. McFarland, 2005.

Filmography[edit source]

1965: A Patch of Blue
Selina D’Arcey
Guy Green

1966: The Group
Priss
Sidney Lumet

1966: You’re a Big Boy Now
Barbara Darling
Francis Ford Coppola

1968: The Fixer
Zinaida
John Frankenheimer

1970: In Pursuit of Treasure

Stanton Kaye

1971: The Beguiled
Edwina Dabney
Don Siegel

1973: Walking Tall
Pauline Pusser
Phil Karlson

1980: Willow B: Women in Prison (aka A Matter of Survival, TV movie)
Helen
Jeff Bleckner

1981: Full Moon High
Miss

Montgomery
Larry Cohen

1982
The Secret of NIMH (Voice; final film role)
Mrs. Brisby
Don Bluth

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