Lung cancer has taken the life of another well known person. Actress Barbara Bel Geddes died of the disease at her home Monday, at age 82.
Barbara Bel Geddes is probably best known for her role as Miss Ellie on the nighttime soap opera Dallas, one of the mainstays of American television in the Eighties; however, her career extended far beyond that role. In fact, she was very successful on the stages of Broadway. The daugher of architect and stage designer Norman Bel Geddes, Bel Geddes made her debut on Broadway in 1941 in the play Out of the Frying Pan. By 1946 she would win a Theatre World Award for her role in the play Deep Are the Roots, directed by Elia Kazan. Over the years Bel Geddes played in several Broadway productions. She was the first actress to play Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. She also appeared in the plays The Living Room (1954), Mary, Mary (1961), and The Sleeping Prince (1956), among others.
Bel Geddes was primarily a stage actress, so her movie and television credits are few. That having been said, they are very notable. She made her screen debut in the role of Jo Ann in the movie The Long Night in 1947. She also appeared as eldest daughter Katrin in I Remember Mama (1948), a role for which she received an Oscar nomination. Among her other notable films were Fourteen Hours, Panic in the Streets, and Vertigo (in which she played Midge, Scottie's best friend and confidant). On television, beyond her role as Miss Ellie on Dallas, Bel Geddes appeared on various anthology shows (Robert Montgomery Presents, Campbell Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars), and Studio One) and she made guest appearances on Daniel Boone and Dr. Kildare. She appeared on Alfred Hitchcock Presents many times. In fact, her most famous role besides Miss Ellie on Dallas may have be her guest appearance in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Lamb to the Slaughter. There she played a wife who murders her philandering husband with a leg of lamb, then serves the murder weapon to the unsuspecting detectives investigating his death.
I never had the opportunity to see Barbara Bel Geddes on stage, but from her few TV and screen apperances I have no doubt she was an immensely talented actress. While her role as Miss Ellie may come to many's minds when they think of Barbara Bel Geddes, I tend to identify her more with her apperances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and her role as Midge on Vertigo. In both "Lamb to the Slaughter" and Vertigo, Bel Geddes was amazing. She brought a frankness and causalness to her roles that not many actresses could have. Indeed, I have always been impressed with her performance as Midge in Vertigo. She and Jimmy Stewart seemed to have a marvelous rapport. She was very convincing as a woman who watches the man she loves (although that love was sadly unrequited) descend into madness. I don't think any other actress could have played the part quite as well. Indeed, I think it very sad that so many only think of Barabar Bel Geddes as Ellie Ewing on Dallas and remain unaware of the many other roles she played, both on stage and on film. She certainly deserves to be remembered for so much more.