Barbara Bel Geddes

Barbara Bel Geddes on the cover of “Life” – 1948

Actress Barbara Bel Geddes was born in New York City in October 1922. Her father was well-known stage designer Norman Bel Geddes. She first appeared on stage at age 10 in her father’s production of Dead End and later became a member of Elia Kazan’s Actors Studio. She made her name on Broadway, winning a 1946 Theatre World Award (Marlon Brando also won that year), before her film career began. She was later nominated for two Tony Awards for Best Actress in a Play –  in 1956, as (the original) Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and in 1961 for Mary, Mary.

Barbara Bel Geddes arrived in Hollywood in 1947. She earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance in her second film, the George Stevens classic I Remember Mama, starring Irene Dunne.

Lamb to the Slaughter/Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Along with theater and film, Bel Geddes was also busy working in ‘Golden Age TV’ live drama anthologies and turning in guest performances on weekly series TV. One of her best remembered appearances was an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode entitled, “Lamb to the Slaughter.” In it, she portrayed a woman who murders her husband, a police chief, with a frozen leg of lamb. Officers arrive at the scene of the crime and while they’re investigating she offers them dinner and serves up the murder weapon – leg of lamb fresh from the oven.

When the memorable primetime soap Dallas got underway in the late ’70s, Bel Geddes was the first cast member signed. She is probably still best-remembered for her portrayal of ‘Miss Ellie’ Ewing.  She appeared in the series from 1978 – 1990 (except for the 1984/85 season) and won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of the Ewing family matriarch.

Vertigo screenwriter Samuel A. Taylor had Bel Geddes,  a friend whose work as an actress he admired, in mind when he contrived Midge, the only featured character who is stable,  grounded and has a sense of humor…

A month-long tribute to Vertigo is in progress now at The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

About The Lady Eve

I blog mostly on classic film - here, there and everywhere - but mainly at
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3 Responses to Barbara Bel Geddes

  1. Kay says:

    After watching this (again) last night, I noticed a few other fascinating (at least to me) things about Midge. Doesn’t she look uncannily like Pat Hitchcock (especially in Strangers on a Train)? Right down to the specs and flippy hairdo!? Interesting, huh? And she’s a designer of lingerie, who wears dull frumpy clothes and acts like a mom (in sooooo many ways, right down to the babytalk nickname for Scottie). Another “thing that makes you say ‘hmmmmmmm'”: at one point (when we first meet her), she wears an outfit that’s the spittin’ image of one of Judy’s…a knit shirt with Johnny collar, tucked into a semi-circle skirt. Coincidence? With Edith Head and Hitch? I think not! 😉 Great sidebar, Lady Eve…thanks for filling in some of the info about this wonderful actress. PS The AMC backstory on Vertigo features an interview with BBG, and she insists that Hitch told her (when playing Midge) “Do NOT act! Don’t ACT!” She says she didn’t!

  2. The Lady Eve says:

    Hitchcock had more than one female type that recurred from time to time in his films. The iconic elegant blonde gets all the press – and there were lots more of them, but there’s also ‘the girl/woman with glasses’…Edna May Wonacott as younger sister Ann Newton in “Shadow of a Doubt” – not to mention an older girl with a smaller part, that of Young Charley’s friend, in the same film…Pat Hitchcock in “Stage Fright,” “Strangers on a Train” and “Psycho”…also Laura Elliot/aka/Kasey Rogers in “Strangers on a Train.” There are probably more than that!

    The relationship between Midge and Scottie (or Johnny-O) definitely has some perplexing (perverse?) undertones. It seems to me that when she visits him at the sanitarium she says something like, “Don’t worry, mother’s here.” Yikes! I suppose the most obvious point might be that Scottie isn’t a mature man able to have adult relationships. Midge is his mom and Madeleine is his fantasy woman. He certainly has no interest in the real Judy…

    • Kay says:

      Yeah, that “Mother’s here” line made my skin crawl, too! **Shudder** What interests me is that the “gal with glasses” character looks sooo much like his wife-daughter. YIKES Part II! Kay (who wears glasses!)

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