Betsy Blair (born Elizabeth Winifred Boger on December 11, 1923) is an Oscar-nominated American character actress.
Her father was William Kidd Boger, a partner in a small insurance brokerage firm; her mother, Frederica Ammon, was a schoolteacher. Both were Episcopalians
. At the age of eight, she was enrolled in the Swift Sisters School of Dance, and recalls performing before Eleanor Roosevelt
in 1933, winning an amateur contest shortly thereafter, joining a touring amateur show and performing on local radio, as motivating influences in her desire to pursue a dance career. She joined the John Robert Powers
modeling agency and by the age of 12 was in regular demand. She enrolled in the Professional Children's School
but, as it was not accredited, her mother returned her to her local school so that she might eventually attend college. She graduated at 15, securing a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College
. However, the Board of Admission considered her too immature for entry and requested she wait one year.
In the interim, Blair successfully applied for a position in the chorus at the International Casino in New York
, and when that closed down, secured a position in January, 1940 in the chorus of Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe
where Gene Kelly was working as choreographer. Kelly befriended Blair and over the course of a year the relationship blossomed, culminating in their marriage in September 1941. She and Kelly remained married for 16 years and had one child together before divorcing in 1957.
The actress left Rose's show to accept an offer from Robert Alton
- who had previously discovered Gene Kelly - to join the chorus of Panama Hattie
, where she joined an illustrious line-up which included June Allyson
and Constance Dowling
, and Vera-Ellen
. During this period she developed a strong interest in Marxism
, having been introduced to Lloyd Gough
by Kelly, and attended Gough's weekly Marxist study group, which Kelly did not attend.
In early 1941, Blair secured her first role in a stage play when Kelly's friend William Saroyan chose her to play the female lead role of St. Agnes of the Mice in his play The Beautiful People at the Lyceum Theatre, playing opposite Eugene Loring, and securing excellent reviews from leading critics George Jean Nathan and Richard Watts.
Blair was featured in such films as A Double Life
, Another Part of the Forest
, and The Snake Pit
in the late 1940s. She continued to hold extreme political views and admittedly attempted to join the Communist Party
. In her autobiography, she revealed that her application was rejected as the Party felt she would be more valuable as the wife of the progressive
Kelly. Kelly himself was not a Communist and his status as a valuable star provided the couple some protection.
In the 1950s, Blair was under investigation from HUAC and blacklisted for several years. She almost lost one of her signature roles, that of Marty's girlfriend in Marty (1955), but was restored to the role after Kelly threatened to pull out of It's Always Fair Weather. For her performance, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and prizes from the Cannes Film Festival.
Her film career, nonetheless, was damaged during the McCarthy era, and she had to seek work on stage in New York.
Following her divorce, Blair moved to Europe where she appeared in various films, including Juan Antonio Bardem's Calle Mayor (1956) and Michelangelo Antonioni's Il Grido (1957). She married director/ producer Karel Reisz in 1963, and would appear sporadically in other films, such as Costa-Gavras' Betrayed (1988) and the mini-series Scarlett in 1994. She was widowed in 2002.
Blair filmed scenes for Stephen Daldry's The Hours (2002), playing the older version of Julianne Moore's character. The producers decided it would be too confusing for audiences seeing the same character played by a different actress, so Blair was dropped and her scenes were reshot with Moore in old-age makeup.
She published her autobiography, "The Memory of All That," in 2003.
Notes and references