Barbara Bel Geddes Biography

Barbara Bel Geddes, an American actress, artist, and children’s author, is best known for her iconic role as Miss Ellie in the popular primetime soap opera ‘Dallas’. With a career spanning 60 years, Bel Geddes has left an indelible mark in the entertainment industry with her remarkable performances on stage, in films, and on television. Starting her career in theater, she gained recognition for her role in the Broadway production of ‘Deep Are The Roots’. She then made her screen debut in the film-noir ‘The Long Night’ and ventured into television with NBC’s drama series ‘Robert Montgomery Presents’. Bel Geddes reached the pinnacle of her career with her involvement in the original Broadway production of ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, as well as her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ and George Stevens’ ‘I Remember Mama’. She also showcased her talent on the small screen in ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’. In 1978, she joined the original cast of ‘Dallas’ and remained a part of the show until its second-to-last season. After retiring from acting, Bel Geddes left a lasting legacy in the entertainment world.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 82
  • Family: 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.

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’. 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. 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 various television shows. Following her collaboration with Hitchcock in ‘Vertigo’, she had the opportunity to work with him again in ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ (1958-60). 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’s books and created a popular line of greeting cards.

Major Works

Barbara Bel Geddes was the first actress to sign for CBS’s legendary soap opera ‘Dallas’. 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

Bel Geddes was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in Supporting Role for ‘I Remember Mama’ in 1949. She received 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.

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. 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 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.


When Bel Geddes was 16 years old, she was expelled from Putney Finishing School for being a disruptive influence.

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