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Barbara Bel Geddes
Barbara Bel Geddes
General Information
Born: October 31, 1922
Birthplace: New York City, New York, U.S.
Died: August 8, 2005(2005-08-08) (aged 82)
Deathplace: Northeast Harbor, Maine, U.S.
Occupation: Actress
Years active: 1947-1990
Appeared on/in
(or involved with):
Dallas (first series)
Appeared as: Miss Ellie Ewing

Barbara Bel Geddes (born October 31, 1922-died August 8, 2005) was the actress who originated the role of Miss Ellie Ewing on Dallas.


Bel Geddes was born in New York City, the daughter of Helen Belle (née Schneider) and stage and industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes.[1] She married theatrical manager Carl Sawyer (aka Carl Schreuer) in 1944; they had one daughter, Susan. They divorced in 1951. Later that year, she married stage director Windsor Lewis with whom she had a daughter, Betsy. When Lewis became ill in 1967, Bel Geddes suspended her career to care for him until his death in 1972.

Barbara began her film career starring with Henry Fonda in The Long Night (1947), a remake of the 1939 French film Le Jour Se Lève. "I went out to California awfully young," she remarked. "I remember Lillian Hellman and Elia Kazan telling me, 'Don't go, learn your craft.' But I loved films." The following year, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the George Stevens classic film I Remember Mama.[2]

"Dallas" YearsEdit

In 1978, Bel Geddes was the first performer contracted to star in Dallas. The role of the family matriarch, 'Miss Ellie' Ewing, brought her renewed international recognition. She appeared on the series from 1978 to 1990 (absent during the 1984–85 season) and remains the only cast member to win the Emmy Award (Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress - Drama Series) and the Golden Globe (List of Golden Globe Awards: Television, Best Actress, Drama). In 1985 she also received Germany's Golden Camera Award.[2]

Larry Hagman, who plays the role J.R. Ewing, told the Associated Press that "She was the rock of Dallas. "She was just a really nice woman and a wonderful actress. She was kind of the glue that held the whole thing together." In a later interview for the website "Ultimate Dallas", Hagman said, "The reason I took the show, they said Barbara Bel Geddes is going to play your mother, and I said, 'Well, that's a touch of class, you know,' so of course I wanted to work with her."

In the early 1970s, Barbara underwent a radical mastectomy, an experience she relived in the 1979–80 season of Dallas. The performance garnered her the Emmy Award. She was also honored by First Lady Betty Ford for helping to raise breast cancer awareness.

In March 1983, Bel Geddes underwent quadruple by-pass heart surgery and subsequently missed a third of the 1983–84 season, a total of 11 episodes.[3] The following year, still contending with compromised health, she found it necessary to step down from the role and was replaced with actress Donna Reed for the 1984–85 season. However, with the rival show Dynasty finally surpassing Dallas in the ratings, the producers made efforts to stabilize the show's slow decline. With health improved, Bel Geddes was restored to the role of Miss Ellie in time for the 1985–86 season, where she remained through the series' penultimate season.[4]

Life after Dallas seriesEdit

Barbara retired from acting in 1990 and settled in her home in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where she continued to work as a fine artist. She was the author of two children's books, I Like to Be Me and So Do I, as well as the creator of a popular line of greeting cards. Looking back on her career, Bel Geddes told People: "They're always making me play well-bred ladies. I'm not very well bred, and I'm not much of a lady."


External linksEdit