Barbara Bel Geddes Biography


Birthday: October 31, 1922 (Scorpio)

Born In: New York, New York, United States

Barbara Bel Geddes was an American actress, artist, and children’s author, best remembered for her portrayal of Miss Ellie, the assertive matriarch of CBS’s primetime soap opera ‘Dallas’. Over the course of her 60-year-long career, she had built up a stellar résumé with numerous stage, films, and television performances. The daughter of a stage and industrial designer, Bel Geddes started her career on stage. Her first prominent role was in the 1945 Broadway production of ‘Deep Are The Roots’. It garnered her several awards and catapulted her to prominence. In 1947, she made her screen debut in the film-noir ‘The Long Night’. Three years later, she was cast in her first television project, NBC’s drama series ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’. At the height of her career, she starred in the original Broadway production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, played major roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ and George Stevens’ ‘I Remember Mama’, and portrayed various characters in ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, the legendary filmmaker’s small-screen venture. In 1978, she became one of the original cast members of ‘Dallas’ and would be involved with the show till its penultimate season. Bel Geddes retired from acting afterwards.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 82


Spouse/Ex-: Carl Sawyer (m. 1944–1951), Windsor Lewis (m. 1951–1972)

father: Norman Bel Geddes

mother: Helen Belle

children: Betsy Lewis, Susan Schreuer McLellan

Actresses American Women

Height: 5'3" (160 cm), 5'3" Females

Died on: August 8, 2005

place of death: Mount Desert, Maine, United States

Diseases & Disabilities: Lung Cancer

Grouping of People: Smoker

Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life
Barbara Bel Geddes was born on October 31, 1922 in New York City to Norman Bel Geddes and Helen Belle (née Schneider). Norman was a renowned theatrical and industrial manager who had worked on over 200 plays. At some point, her father married again, this time to the famous theatrical costume designer Edith Lutyens. Bel Geddes had a sister named Joan.
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Career in Theatre
After attending The Putney School in Putney, Vermont, Barbara Bel Geddes began her acting career on stage at the age of 18. Her first prominent role was in the Broadway play ‘Deep Are the Roots’, which was first staged in 1945. The play was a huge success and her performance was praised by the critics. Furthermore, she received the Clarence Derwent Award and the Donaldson Award (forerunner of the Tony Awards) for Outstanding Achievement in The Theatre for the role.
Between 1951 and 1953, she appeared on stage 924 times for F. Hugh Herbert’s hit comedy ‘The Moon Is Blue’. In 1955, she portrayed the character of Maggie “The Cat” in the inaugural production of Tennessee Williams' ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.
In 1961, she was cast as the eponymous character in Jean Carr’s comedy ‘Mary, Mary’, which ran for over 1500 performances, making it the longest-running Broadway show of all time. Bel Geddes received Tony nods for both of these roles.
In her illustrious theatre career, she was also part of productions of John Steinbeck's ‘Burning Bright’ and Edward Albee's ‘Everything in the Garden’. She co-starred with Henry Fonda in a production of ‘Silent Night, Lonely Night’.
Film Career
Barbara Bel Geddes made her big screen debut opposite Henry Fonda in the 1947 film ‘The Long Night’, which was actually the remake of a 1939 French film named ‘Le Jour Se Lève’.
In George Stevens’ 1948 drama ‘I Remember Mama’, she was cast as the Norwegian immigrant author Katrin Hanson; this role has come to be viewed as her greatest cinematic performance. In the 1950 film-noir ‘Panic in the Streets’, she worked with Richard Widmark.
She shared screen space with James Stewart and Kim Novak in Hitchcock’s classic 1958 film ‘Vertigo’. Starring as Marjorie “Midge" Wood, she did not portray the female love interest, but the friend and confidant of John "Scottie" Ferguson (Stewart), the central protagonist of the film.
In ‘The Five Pennies’, the semi-biographical film inspired by the life of jazz cornettist and composer Ernest Loring "Red" Nichols, Bel Geddes was cast as Willa Stutsman opposite Danny Kaye’s Nichols. Her last film was the 1971 psychological thriller ‘The Todd Killings’.
Television Career
After playing several characters in ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’ in 1950, she made guest appearances in ‘Pulitzer Prize Playhouse’ (1950), ‘Campbell Summer Soundstage’ (1954), ‘The Joseph Cotten Show: On Trial’ (1957), ‘Schlitz Playhouse’, ‘Studio One in Hollywood’ (1957-58), ‘Playhouse 90’ (1958), and ‘Riverboat’ (1959) to name a few.
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Following her collaboration with Hitchcock in ‘Vertigo’, she had the opportunity to work with him again in ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1958-60). She played Lucia Clay in the episode ‘The Foghorn’ (1958), Mary Maloney in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ (1958), Helen Brewster in ‘The Morning of the Bride’ (1959), and Sybilla Meade in ‘Sybilla’ (1960).
She also appeared in the television series ‘Spencer’s Pilots’ (1976) and TV movie ‘Our Town’ (1977).
Later Life
After her retirement from acting, she published two children books, ‘I Like to be Me’ in 1963 and ‘So Do I’ in 1973. She was behind the creation of a popular line of greeting cards.
Major Works
Barbara Bel Geddes was the first actress to sign for CBS’s legendary soap opera ‘Dallas’ which has secured itself a very important place in the annals of television history. Originally airing from April 2, 1978 to May 3, 1991, it told the story of a wealthy and feuding Texan family, the Ewings, who are the owners of the Ewing Oil Company and the Southfork cattle-ranching land. For 12 years, she embodied the independent and assertive character of Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow, winning multiple accolades. She eventually left the show in 1990, a year before its final season.
Awards & Achievements
In 1949, Bel Geddes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in Supporting Role for ‘I Remember Mama’ but lost to Claire Trevor.
She received the Woman of the Year Award from Hasty Pudding Theatricals, USA in 1952.
She won multiple awards for her tenure as Miss Ellie Ewing in ‘Dallas’, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 1980; the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama in 1982; the Soap Opera Digest Award for Outstanding Actress in a Mature Role in a Prime Time Soap Opera in 1984; and the German Golden Camera Award for Best International Actress in 1985.
Personal Life & Legacy
Barbara Bel Geddes married twice in her life. Her first husband, Carl Sawyer (né Schreuer), whom she wed on January 24, 1944, was a theatrical manager. After seven years of marriage, their divorce was finalized on March 13, 1951. They had a child together, a daughter named Susan.
She and stage director Windsor Lewis married on April 15, 1951. She bore him a daughter, Betsy Lewis. In 1966, after Windsor was diagnosed with cancer, Bel Geddes took a long hiatus from the show business to take care of him. He died on May 15, 1972.
In the 1950s, she was included in the Hollywood Blacklist by House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged socialist activities. Her film career suffered as a result. She chose to focus on stage acting during this period.
Bel Geddes spent the final years of her life in Northeast Harbor, Maine. She passed away on August 8, 2005, at the age of 82. She had been suffering from lung cancer. As per her wishes, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered into the harbor waters bordering her property.
In 2012, ‘Dallas’ was revived for three seasons on TNT. According to Patrick Duffy, who played her son in the original series, there had not been an episode in the first season where she was not mentioned in reference to “Southfork and the land.”
When Bel Geddes was 16 years old, she was expelled from Putney Finishing School for being a disruptive influence.


Golden Globe Awards
1982 Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama Dallas (1978)
Primetime Emmy Awards
1980 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Dallas (1978)

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