( b. Dec 11, 1923 Cliffside Park, New Jersey, USA - d. Mar 13, 2009 London, ENGLAND ) Female
Few film-makers of the left emerged unscathed from the Hollywood witchhunt led by Senator Joe McCarthy. Some died, some were ruined, some headed for Europe. Others named names. Among its victims, the actor Betsy Blair considered herself fortunate.
Despite being blacklisted, she was made less vulnerable by her marriage to fellow socialist Gene Kelly who, by the early 1950s, was virtually untouchable thanks to such successful movies as "On the Town", "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain". Eventually she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in the 1955 film "Marty".
Blair began acting in films in the late 1940s, with small roles in sturdy dramas such as "The Guilt of Janet Ames", George Cukor's "A Double Life" and 'Another Part of the Forest", from the play by Lillian Hellman. She fell out of favour for activities that included substantial fundraising for leftwing causes. "After Kind Lady" (1951), where she nearly lost the part, she found herself unemployable. But, cushioned by wealth and a highly intelligent, inquisitive mind, she coped - still in her early 20s - with "committee" work, as wife to a superstar and mother to their five-year-old daughter.
Born Elizabeth Winifred Boger in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, she had started her career very early. After graduating from high school at 15 and being too impatient to wait to take up her scholarship at university, she went - with her teacher mother's connivance (her father was an insurance broker) - for an audition as a dancer in a New York night club. The teenager from a sedate, small-town background found herself in the big city, directed by and in love with the choreographer Gene Kelly.
She understudied the role of Laura in the Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie and took the lead in Willliam Saroyan's play The Beautiful People. Blair's initial disdain for movies allowed her to concentrate on theatre work, motherhood, keeping open house to the elite of Hollywood and fundraising. She was turned down by the Communist party, which feared that her joining might compromise Kelly's outside activities.
After a handful of parts and an enforced hiatus between 1951 and 1955, she was tentatively offered the role of Clara in the movie version of Paddy Chayevsky's teleplay, "Marty". Thanks to pressure from the writer and Kelly, she was finally given the role, despite the blacklist.
For years she worked only sporadically, including "Das Bombe" (1964) and Claude Berri's comedy "Marry Me, Marry Me" (1968). She also returned to the theatre - an early highlight was an elegant evening of music and poetry, The Spoon River Anthology (1964), at the Royal Court theatre. She was also among a remarkable cast in the film version of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1973), directed by Tony Richardson.
More than 30 years after her last Hollywood movie, she returned there to film "Betrayed" (1988), a political thriller directed by Costa-Gavras. This gripping story of a white supremacist (Tom Berenger) being tracked by an FBI undercover agent cast her as the racist's mother. Blair matched Berenger's chilling performance with authority and grace. A spot in one of the Marcus Welby television episodes, and a role as Sister of Mercy in the sprawling mini-series "Scarlett" (a sequel to Gone With the Wind, 1994), were - disappointingly - all that followed.
Blair's autobiography, "The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris," was published in 2003. She declared herself content, having, she said, no regrets about the blacklist, which obliged her to mature as a person and - consequently - as an actor. Modestly, she once said, "it certainly wasn't much of a career. For all my ambitions, I think my life was more important to me."
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