Jo Van Fleet


Actor
Jo Van Fleet

About

Also Known As
Catherine Josephine Van Fleet
Birth Place
Oakland, California, USA
Born
December 29, 1915
Died
June 10, 1996

Biography

This highly talented stage actress didn't make her film debut until she was almost 40 ("East of Eden," 1955), but it put her on the map and kept her working through the 1970s.Van Fleet, a California native, was schooled for her craft by Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She made her stage debut in "Uncle Harry" at Wash...

Family & Companions

William Bales
Husband
Modern dance instructor. Married until his death in 1990.

Notes

Van Fleet received an honorary doctorate from the College of the Pacific.

Biography

This highly talented stage actress didn't make her film debut until she was almost 40 ("East of Eden," 1955), but it put her on the map and kept her working through the 1970s.

Van Fleet, a California native, was schooled for her craft by Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She made her stage debut in "Uncle Harry" at Washington, DC's National Theater in 1944 and quickly made a name for herself as a forceful character actress. She made her Broadway debut in "The Winter's Tale" (1946), and went on to success after success: "The Trip to Bountiful" (1953, for which she won Tony and Donaldson Awards), "Look Homeward, Angel" (1957), "The Glass Menagerie" (1959, and again in 1965), and "Oh, Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad" (1962). She also acted in countless plays around the country.

"East of Eden" was her first film, and Van Fleet won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as James Dean's mother, the tough madam of a brothel. She played supporting character roles, often hard-bitten in nature, in another dozen films, a respectable number of them hits. These included "The Rose Tattoo" (1955), "I'll Cry Tomorrow" (also 1955), as Susan Hayward's mother; "Gunfight at the OK Corral" (1957), "Wild River" (1960), strikingly effective as an 80-year old woman; "Cool Hand Luke" (1967), and "The Tenant" (1976). Her most recent onscreen appearance has been opposite Robin Williams in "Seize the Day" (1986, shown on PBS in 1987), the first film adaptation of a Saul Bellow novel.

TV also offered Van Fleet some nice opportunities; her most fondly remembered role was as Lesley Ann Warren's wicked stepmother in an adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" (CBS, 1965). She also guested on "Cosmopolitan Theater" (DuMont, 1951) and appeared in such TV-movies as "Heidi" (NBC, 1955), "The Family Rico" (CBS, 1972), "Satan's School for Girls" (ABC, 1973), and the miniseries "Power" (NBC, 1980). The imposing-looking actress has generally played older than her years, generally as mothers to performers ranging from Anthony Perkins to Ben Gazzara to Paul Newman. She died at the age of 80 in 1996.

Life Events

1944

Stage career began at Washington's National Theater with a role in "U Harry"

1946

Broadway debut in "The Winters Tale"

1953

Appeared onstage in "The Trip to Bountiful"

1955

Screen debut in "East of Eden" playing James Dean's mother

1957

Appeared in "Look Homeward, Angel" playing the role of Anthony Perkins' mother

1959

Appeared in "The Glass Menagerie"; played role again in 1965

1965

Appeared as the wicked stepmother in a TV adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella"

1986

Appeared in "Seize the Day" with Robin Williams

Videos

Movie Clip

I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) - Sing You Sinners Grand entrance for Susan Hayward, as the now grown-up Lillian Roth, in Hollywood shooting the number "Sing, You Sinners" by W. Franke Harling and Sam Coslow, as made famous by the real Roth in Honey, 1930, Jo Van Fleet her preening mother, in I'll Cry Tomorrow, 1955.
King And Four Queens, The (1956) - Lady Of The House Drifter Kehoe (Clark Gable) rides to the McDade ranch where Ma (Jo Van Fleet) and four widowed daughters in-law (Barbara Nichols, Jean Willes, Sara Shane and Eleanor Parker, dressing, in that order) are said to be sitting on $100,000 in stolen gold, early in The King And Four Queens, 1956.
East Of Eden (1955) - Monterey, 1917 Director Elia Kazan’s opens his treatment of the last section of John Steinbeck’s novel, nervous Cal (James Dean, in his first starring role) follows cagey Kate (Jo Van Fleet) through Monterey (actually Humboldt County), California, not explaining their relationship, in East Of Eden, 1955.
East Of Eden (1955) - Is There Anything Nice About Her At All? Anxious Cal (James Dean) charms hired-girl Anne (Lois Smith) into showing him to the office of Kate (Jo Van Fleet), who runs the brothel and also, the audience has surmised, is his long-lost mother, in Northern California, 1917, Elia Kazan directing, from John Steinbeck’s novel, East Of Eden,1955.
Wild River (1960) - This Whole Place Will Be Water Montgomery Clift as Glover, the new Tennessee Valley Authority man, having noted the “TVA keep off” sign, not quite meeting matriarch Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet), who refuses to sell her land even though the new dam’s already been built, Lee Remick her near-silent daughter, early in Elia Kazan’s Wild River, 1960.
Wild River (1960) - He Told Me Never To Get Off Stubborn Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) shows TVA-man Glover (Montgomery Clift) the grave of her husband, who told her never to give up the Tennessee River island he claimed, regardless of the new dam and the lake, her daughter Carol (Lee Remick) not exactly helping, in Elia Kazan’s Wild River, 1960.
East Of Eden (1955) - You Take After Me Cal (James Dean) on his third visit to Monterey, California, intercepts Kate (Jo Van Fleet), owner of the local brothel, who now knows he’s one of the sons she abandoned in infancy, discussing his father’s business, among other topics, in Elia Kazan’s East Of Eden, from the Steinbeck novel.
I Love You, Alice B. Toklas - I Found Some Brownies Lawyer Harold (Peter Sellers), wedding planning with parents (Jo Van Fleet, Salem Ludwig) and fiancee' Joyce (Joyce Van Patten), who finds pot-laced brownies left by his secret overnight guest, in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas, 1968.
I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955) - You Don't Turn Back Now a Hollywood singing star, Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward) happens in on her micro-managing mother (Jo Van Fleet), discussing prospects with lawyer David (Ray Danton), her childhood friend with whom she's recently re-united, in I'll Cry Tomorrow, 1955.

Trailer

Family

Roy H Van Fleet
Father
Elizabeth Van Fleet
Mother
Michael Bales
Son
Father Willam Bales; survived her.

Companions

William Bales
Husband
Modern dance instructor. Married until his death in 1990.

Bibliography

Notes

Van Fleet received an honorary doctorate from the College of the Pacific.