) is an American movie and television actress born in Staplehurst, Nebraska
. She is known for her roles in the films Nightmare Alley
(1947), the frontispiece of Red River
(1948), in which she played John Wayne
's character's fiancée, and Kiss of Death
Born Doris Jensen
, Gray was a genuine farmer's daughter from the cornfields of Nebraska
. After graduating from high school, she studied dramatics at Hamline University
, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree. She then decided to see America and traveled to California
, stopping at La Jolla
, where she worked as a waitress. After several weeks there, she moved to Los Angeles
and enrolled in a drama school. She had several leading roles in the Los Angeles stage productions Letters to Lucerne
and Brief Music
, which won her a 20th Century Fox
contract in 1944. At first, she was relegated to bits in such films as State Fair
(1946) and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim
(1947), while attending the studio's "starlet school".
Finally, Gray made good impressions in two 1947 film noirs
: Kiss of Death
, as ex-con Victor Mature
's wife and Richard Widmark
's target and Nightmare Alley
, as "Electra", Tyrone Power
's carnival performer wife. In 1948, she appeared as John Wayne
's love interest in the memorable opening sequences of Red River
, but she was overshadowed by the men in Howard Hawks
' western and from there, her career slid downhill quickly, with Fox ending her contract in 1950.
Gray worked steadily in the 1950s. She played a memorably crooked nurse in The Sleeping City (1950), Kansas City Confidential (1952), and the film noir The Killing (1956), in which she plays a lonely woman desperate for love. Other films included Father Is a Bachelor (1950), the cult horror film The Leech Woman (1960), The Phantom Planet (1961), and P.J. (1968).
She made only two films in the 70s, The Late Liz (1971) and co-starring with Patsy Ruth Miller (in her last film) in the indie MOTHER filmed in Houston (1978). The latter film was written, produced, and directed by Brian Pinette, and had a world premiere screening at Museum of Modern Art in New York City with Miller and Pinette in attendance. She also appeared in one in the 80s, the religious flick Cry from the Mountain, produced by Billy Graham in 1986.
In 1964, along with actors Victor Jory and Susan Seaforth, Gray testified before the United States Congress as part of "Project Prayer", arguing in favor of Constitutional amendment allowing school prayer.
From the 1950s, she guest starred in episodes of television series such as Maverick
, Alfred Hitchcock Presents
, Mr. Ed
, 77 Sunset Strip
, and The Deputy
, Have Gun - Will Travel
, Perry Mason
, Family Affair
, and The Name of the Game
, among dozens of others.
She married Rodney Amateau, a screenwriter, on August 10 1945
. They divorced on February 11 1949
. They had one daughter, Susan (born c. 1947). In 1955, she sued her ex-husband for child support.
Her second husband was William Clymer Bidlack, an aviation executive. They were married from July 14 1953
until his death in 1978. They have one child, a son named Bruce Robin Bidlack, born on June 1 1954
She has been married to Fritz Zeiser since 1979. They are involved with the non-profit volunteer organization Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson (a former prisoner himself for his involvement in the Watergate scandal), which assists the church in ministering to prisoners and their families, as well as their victims.
"When I attended the University, I daydreamed about being a movie star. I would do my dressing room in Early American and give lovely presents to my make-up man and hairdresser for making me look so lovely, and so on. When I got my contract at 20th I was in seventh heaven, but I found out that a movie career is mostly hard work laced with disappointments".--Coleen Gray, quoted in The Boston Sunday Post
, November 9, 1947