Saturday, March 21, 2009

Betsy Blair R.I.P.

Actress Betsy Blair passed on March 13 at the age of 85. The cause was cancer. Best known for her role in Marty, she was later blacklisted.

Betsy Blair was born Elizabeth Boge on December 11, 1923 in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. As a child she took dance lessons. By the time she was 11 she was dancing in an amateur and performing on local radio. She was eventually hired by the John Robert Powers modelling agency. At age 16 she became part of the the chorus line at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a nightclub where Gene Kelly was choreographer. The two would marry the following year. Blair made her Broadway debut in the chorus line of Panama Hattie in 1940. In 1941 she appeared as the lead in The Beautiful People. In 1945 she was an understudy for The Glass Menagerie.

Blair made her film debut in The Guilt of Janet Ames in 1947. She went onto appear in such films as A Double Life, The Snake Pit, Mystery Street, and The Kind Lady. She also appeared on television in episodes of The Philco Television Playhouse and Kraft Television Theatre. She also appeared on Broadway in King Richard II. Her career would stall in the early Fifties because of the Hollywood blacklist at the time. In the Forties Blair had attended a weekly Marxist study group in New York City. She would later join such leftist organisations as he Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, the Sleepy Lagoon Committee, and the Civil Rights Congress. This would bring her to the attention of the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

It is because of the blacklist that Blair almost did not get her best known role, that of Clara Snyder in the film adaptation of Marty. Before she could win the part, her husband of the time Gene Kelly had to ask studio head Dore Schary to intervene, with the caveat that if he did not he would cease working on It's Always Fair Weather. Blair was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the role. Regardless, of her success with Marty, her career had still been substantially damaged by the blacklist. Blair and Gene Kelly divorced, and Blair sought work in Paris. In Europe she appeared in such films as Rencontre a Paris, Calle Mayor, and Il Grido. She would appear stateside in the movie The Halliday Brand, alongside Joseph Cotton and Viveca Lindfors.

Blair's later career would be a mixed bag. She made appearances on television in both the United Kingdom and the United States, on Goodyear Television Playhouse, ITV Television Playhouse, Shades of Greene, Tales of the Unexpected, thirtysomething, and the mini-series Scarlett. She appeared in several films in Europe, including Rencontre a Paris, I Delfini, and Mazel Tov ou le mariage. She would appear in a few Engilsh speaking films, including Lies My Father Told Me, All Night Long, A Delicate Balance, Flight of the Spruce Goose, and Betrayed.

At the age of 70 Blair earned a degree in speech therapy and spent many years as a speech therapist. She published her autobiography, The Memory of All That, in 2003.

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