The daughter of Norman Bel Geddes, the noted architect and theatrical set designer, Barbara Bel Geddes was a professional stage actress from age 18. She gained prominence as the ingenue in the original Broadway production of that summer-stock perennial Out of the Frying Pan. Other accomplishments in Barbara's years on stage included the New York critics circle award in 1945, and her performance as Maggie "The Cat" in the original 1955 production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Ms. Bel Geddes enjoyed a promising beginning in films in 1947's The Long Night (remake of Marcel Carne's Le Jour se Leve); one year later, she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as Irene Dunne's daughter in I Remember Mama (1948). The House UnAmerican Activities Committee investigations effectively ended Ms. Bel Geddes' starring career in films. She returned before the cameras thanks to a few brave souls like Alfred Hitchcock, who cast Barbara in his famous "Lamb to the Slaughter" episode in his weekly TV anthology (as well as three additional installments), and in a strong supporting role in his theatrical feature Vertigo (1958). Beginning in 1978, Barbara Bel Geddes played Miss Ellie Ewing on the nigthttime TV serial Dallas, a role which earned her an Emmy award; she remained with Dallas until its cancellation in 1991, save for the 1984-85 season, when she temporarily retired due to heart surgery (the role of Miss Ellie was filled that year by Donna Reed).
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Father, Norman, was a theatrical designer, and later an industrial designer who specialized in aerodynamics.
- First Hollywood contract had the unusual stipulation that she only had to do one film a year.
- Was dropped by new RKO studio head Howard Hughes in 1948 because he deemed her "not sexy enough."
- Was blacklisted for several years in the 1950s following an appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
- Made Broadway debut in Out of the Frying Pan in 1941, and played Maggie the Cat in the original 1955 production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
- Starred in the classic 1958 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "Lamb to the Slaughter," in which she killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then served it to investigating detectives.
- Had heart surgery in 1984 that forced her to leave the series Dallas. Donna Reed replaced her as Ewing matriarch Miss Ellie, but Bel Geddes returned to the role the next season.
- During her Dallas run (star Larry Hagman once said that she "held the ship together" on the series) her character battled breast cancer in a sensitive plot development that mirrored personal experience with the disease. While she found "dredging up" the ordeal painful, she took time to discuss the topic during interviews.
- Wrote two children's books, I Like to Be Me and So Do I.