Farewell to Miss Ellie

United States actor Barbara Bel Geddes, best known as Ewing family matriarch Miss Ellie in the legendary television soap opera Dallas, has died at the age of 82, funeral directors said on Wednesday.

“I can confirm that Miss Bel Geddes has died,” an official at the Jordan-Fernald Funeral Home in Mount Desert, in the eastern US state of Maine, said on condition of anonymity.

“The family has asked that we do not give out any further details,” the source added.

The San Francisco Chronicle, however, quoted Bel Geddes’s second cousin, who lives in the West Coast city, as saying the actress died of lung cancer.

Oscar-nominated Bel Geddes became world famous through her role as the mother of Texas oil barons JR and Bobby Ewing—played by Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy—in Dallas, which ran from 1978 to 1991.

She won television’s highest honour, an Emmy Award, for best actress in 1980 and was nominated in the same category in 1979 and 1981.
She left the show for health reasons in 1985.

In the series, the empathetic Eleanor Ewing was married twice, first to Ewing patriarch Jock Ewing, played by the late Jim Davis, and then to Clayton Farlow, played by former musical star Howard Keel.

She played the mother-in-law of Ewing women Pamela, played by Victoria Principal, and the volatile wife of JR, Sue Ellen, played by actress Linda Gray.

But while she will be best remembered as the oil family matriarch, Bel Geddes was an accomplished stage and screen actress long before Dallas, the soap opera that made television history by becoming a global phenomenon.

She won an Academy Award nod for best supporting actress in 1948’s I Remember Mama and starred in Panic in the Streets (1950), directed by Elia Kazan, and in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic mystery thriller Vertigo in 1958.

The actress was born in New York City on October 31 1922 to theatrical designer father Norman Bel Geddes, and made her stage debut at age 18.

Her first movie role came seven years later when she was cast in the 1947 drama The Long Night, starring Henry Fonda.

One year later, she attracted widespread attention for her role as Katrin Hanson in the family drama I Remember Mama.

She worked regularly in televison in the 1950s and 1960s, frequently taking roles in master of suspense Hitchcock’s US television series.

In one episode based on a Roald Dahl story, she memorably played an angry housewife who bludgeons her husband to death with a shank of lamb and then feeds it to policemen investigating the mysterious murder.

Bel Geddes was also the original sexually starved Maggie in the first Broadway version of Tennessee Williams’s 1955 play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Bel Geddes’s portrayal of Miss Ellie’s battle with breast cancer helped throw light on the disease that was little talked about in public at the time.

The actress was married twice, the last marriage ending in her husbad’s death in 1972. She is survived by two daughters, Susan and Betsy and several grandchildren.—AFP

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