Barbara Lawrence, the glamorous actress who appeared in films from A Letter to Three Wives (1949) to Oklahoma! (1955) and made numerous appearances on television, died on 13 November 2013. The cause was kidney failure
Barbara Lawrence was born on 24 February 1928 in Carnegie, Oklahoma. Her family later moved to Kansas City, Missouri. It was while the family lived in Kansas City that Miss Lawrence began a career as a child model. Eventually they moved to California. It was there when she was 12 years old that Barbara Lawrence was named "Little Miss Hollywood". It is around the same time that she studied acting at the Max Reinhardt drama school.
It was in 1945 that Barbara Lawrence made her film debut in a bit part in Diamond Horseshoe (she had lied about her age to do so). She was only a teenager when she signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. In the late Forties she appeared in such films as Margie (1946), Captain from Castile (1947), You Were Meant for Me (1948), Give My Regards to Broadway (1948), The Street with No Name (1948), Unfaithfully Yours (1948), A Letter to Three Wives (1949), Mother Is a Freshman (1949), Thieves' Highway (1949), and Peggy (1950). She made her television debut on an episode of The Silver Theatre in 1950.
It was in the Fifties that Barbara Lawrence appeared in one might be her most famous role, that of Gertie Cummings in Oklahoma! (1955). She also appeared in the films Two Tickets to Broadway (1951), Here Come the Nelsons (1952), The Star (1952), Arena (1953), Paris Model (1953), Jesse James vs. the Daltons (1954), Her Twelve Men (1954), Man with the Gun (1955), Kronos (1957), Man in the Shadow (1957), and Joe Dakota (1957). She appeared frequently on television, in such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, G.E. Theatre, Four Star Playhouse, Alcoa Theatre, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Cimarron City, Trackdown, Riverbaot, Tightrope, Bat Masterson, and Bonanza.
In the Sixties Miss Lawerence appeared on the TV shows Perry Mason and The Tall Man. She retired from acting in the mid-Sixties to care for her family. She later studied writing at UCLA. She also served as a public relations account director, living in Italy, Mexico and Caracas. She also wrote adventure and mystery novels, including Welcome to the Jungle, Murder On The Backlot, Howling Dog Farm, and The Big Adios.
It was rare that Barbara Lawrence was the leading lady in a film. More often than not she played the female lead's little sister, best friend, or, sometimes, worst rival. This was a shame as she had a very real presence on the screen. It wasn't a simple case that she was incredibly beautiful (which she was), but that she was exceedingly talented as well. Indeed, while the role of Gertie in Oklahoma! was a small one, it remains memorable because Barbara Lawrence made it so. Giggling Gertie was not Miss Lawrence's only impressive role. Early in her career she was a stand out the vivacious neighbour of Margie MacDuff (Jeanne Crain) in Margie. She also proved effective as a bit of a hussy in Arena and a meddling high society girlfriend in Her Twelve Men. Barbara Lawrence's television appearances were no less impressive than her film appearance, giving good performances in shows from Bat Masterson to Perry Mason.
In the end I think Barbara Lawrence was one those actresses who was under utilised or poorly utilised. She was truly leading lady material and at times much more talented than the female leads in her films. Indeed, despite rarely playing lead roles Barbara Lawrence will remain remembered for her many great performances.