Coleen Gray


Actor
Coleen Gray

About

Also Known As
Doris Jensen, Colleen Gray
Birth Place
Staplehurst, Nebraska, USA
Born
October 23, 1922

Biography

As a product of the post-World War II Hollywood assembly line, actress Coleen Gray fared better than many other pretty young things lured to the studios with the promise of a long-term contract. A plum role as Victor Mature's girlfriend in "Kiss of Death" (1947) gave the dark-haired Nebraskan just the right career boost, setting her up for memorable turns as Tyrone Power's comely accompl...

Family & Companions

Rodney Amateau
Husband
Screenwriter. Married on August 10, 1945; divorced on February 11, 1949.
William Clymer Bidlack
Husband
Aviation executive. Married on July 14, 1953.

Notes

"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 loook 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

Biography

As a product of the post-World War II Hollywood assembly line, actress Coleen Gray fared better than many other pretty young things lured to the studios with the promise of a long-term contract. A plum role as Victor Mature's girlfriend in "Kiss of Death" (1947) gave the dark-haired Nebraskan just the right career boost, setting her up for memorable turns as Tyrone Power's comely accomplice in "Nightmare Alley" (1947) and as John Wayne's prairie sweetheart in "Red River" (1948). Equally adept at etching characters of virtue and vice, Gray segued seamlessly from playing a shady nurse in "The Sleeping City" (1950) to the heroine of "Kansas City Confidential" (1951), which paired her onscreen and off with leading man John Payne. Following a failed early marriage, Gray's assignments were largely routine until Stanley Kubrick lifted her out of B-movie mediocrity when he cast her as Sterling Hayden's gun moll in the heist drama "The Killing" (1956). In middle age, the actress endeared herself to a new generation of cult film fans by playing a potential victim of "The Vampire" (1957) and an amoral cosmetics company CEO who discovers the secret to immortality in "The Leech Woman" (1960). A familiar face on television, Gray quit show business for faith-based charity work alongside born-again Watergate convict Chuck Colson, but she reemerged late in celebration of her contributions to American cinema and to honor the memory of her departed co-stars and leading men. Her death on August 3, 2015 at the age of 92 was mourned by generations of film noir fans.

Coleen Gray was born Doris Bernice Jensen on Oct. 23, 1922, in Staplehurst, NE. The daughter of Danish immigrants, she attended Hamline University, a liberal arts college in Saint Paul, MN, from which she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in music and English literature. Having met and fallen in love with a fellow student, Gray followed the boy to La Jolla, CA, where he was stationed with the Air Force and where Gray found work as a waitress. With the dissolution of the relationship, Gray traveled north to Los Angele. Paying her rent with work at the YWCA, she registered for acting lessons with Max Reinhart protégé Carl Heinz Roth. While performing in an amateur stage production, Gray was scouted by 20th Century Fox's Ivan Kahn. Invited to make a screen test for the studio, Gray was offered a seven-year exclusive contract at $150 per week. The Hollywood newcomer also gained a husband when she married writer Rod Amateau, who had penned the script for her screen test.

Gray made her film debut with a bit part in "State Fair" (1945) and was utilized in minor roles in "Three Little Girls in Blue" (1946) and "The Shocking Miss Pilgrim" (1947), though her scene in the latter wound up on the cutting room floor. She was given a proper introduction to film audiences in Henry Hathaway's film noir classic "Kiss of Death" (1947), playing star Victor Mature's love interest in the tale of an ex-con whose attempt to go straight makes him a target for psychotic gangster Richard Widmark. Darker still was Gray's exotic turn in Edmund Goulding's carnival melodrama "Nightmare Alley" (1947), in which she was the sultry but scrupulous shill of bogus spiritualist Tyrone Power, who betrays her lover and accomplice rather than permit the bilking of a lonely old man grieving for his dead daughter. In Howard Hawks' epic Western "Red River" (1948), Gray was memorable in the small but pivotal role of star John Wayne's sweetheart, whose death at the hands of Comanche marauders sets in motion a sprawling saga of revenge and redemption along the Chisholm Trail.

Divorced from Amateau by 1949 and retaining sole custody of their daughter, Gray relocated to Culver City to make a fresh start. She was paired with William Holden for the featherweight period comedy "Father is a Bachelor" (1950) and traveled to New York to play a nurse with dark secrets in "The Sleeping City" (1950), a fictitious exposé of hospital corruption directed by George Sherman. The actress enjoyed leading lady status in Phil Karlson's crime drama "Kansas City Confidential" (1950) and a long-term off-screen romance with leading man John Payne. After a national tour with the play "The Moon is Blue," Gray returned to features with a string of programmers , among them "Saber Jet" (1953) with Robert Stack, "The Fake" (1953) with Dennis O'Keefe, and "Arrow in the Dust" (1954), which paired her with garrulous contract player Sterling Hayden. Stanley Kubrick reteamed the two to greater effect in "The Killing" (1956), the edgy chronicle of a doomed racetrack heist that redefined the caper film and bridged the gap between film noir and the downbeat procedurals of the coming decades.

Having remarried in 1953 to aviation executive William Clymer Bidlack and given birth to a son, Gray settled into a busy period as a jobbing actress, whose string of forgettable film assignments was broken up by the mirthfully ignoble likes of "The Vampire" (1957), "The Leech Woman" (1960), and "The Phantom Planet" (1961). "Hell's Five Hours" (1958) dropped the actress into the middle of an atomic hostage crisis with literally Apocalyptic implications and in "Town Tamer" (1965) she fell early as the slain wife of Kansas lawman Dana Andrews, who had been leading man of her feature film debut 20 years earlier. Gray worked extensively in television, turning up with reliable professionalism on such weekly series as "Maverick" (ABC, 1957-1962), "Have Gun - Will Travel" (CBS, 1957-1963), "Rawhide" (CBS, 1959-1965) and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" (CBS, 1955-1962). Nearing 50, she returned to features as the wife of millionaire Raymond Burr in John Guillermin's "P.J." (1968), starring George Peppard as a private eye framed for murder. Though Gray's screen time amounted to mere minutes, she made the most of a humiliation scene in which her fashionable but browbeaten society woman confronts Burr's eye candy mistress Gayle Hunnicutt.

The death of Gray's second husband in 1978 left the actress despondent and reliant on the kindness of church friends, who set her up widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser. Married for a third time in 1979, Gray joined Zeiser in his work with Prison Fellowship, a non-profit charity founded by disgraced Nixon advisor Charles Colson, who had embraced Evangelical Christianity while serving a prison sentence for obstruction of justice. Gray's final film role was in the Christian survival drama "A Cry from the Mountain" (1985), funded by and featuring the Reverend Billy Graham in a sermonizing cameo. Gray retired from show business after appearing in a disarmingly poignant 1986 episode of the syndicated horror anthology series "Tales from the Darkside" (1983-1988), as a grieving mother who maintains a shrine for her daughter despite the fact that the young woman is very much alive. Honored in 2006 for her work in Hollywood Westerns, Gray was also recognized in later life for her contributions to film noir and horror and science fiction cinema. Colleen Gray died of natural causes at her home in Bel Air, California on August 3, 2015. She was 92 years old.

By Richard Harland Smith

Life Events

1944

Signed to 20th Century-Fox contract

1945

First documented film credit in the musical "State Fair"

1947

First major role, in Henry Hathaway's "Kiss of Death"

1948

Supporting role in Howard Hawks' "Red River"

1948

Co-stars opposite Victor Mature in western "Fury at Furnace Creek"

1949

Co-stars opposite Mark Stevens in western "Sand"

1950

Stars opposite Bing Crosby in comedy "Riding High"

1950

Co-stars opposite William Holden in comedy "Father Is A Bachelor"

1950

Stars in film noir "The Sleeping City," directed by George Sherman.

1951

Stars opposite George Raft in crime drama "Lucky Nick Cain"

1952

Stars in crime drama "Models Inc."

1952

Stars in acclaimed film noir "Kansas City Confidential"

1953

Stars opposite Robert Stack in Korean War drama "Sabre Jet"

1954

Stars opposite Sterling Hayden in western "Arrow in the Dust"

1956

Reunites with Sterling Hayden in Stanley Kubrick's "The Killing"

1960

Starred in science fiction horror film "The Leech Woman"

1961

Starred in cult favorite science fiction adventure "The Phantom Planet"

1974

Recurring role on McCloud" as Muriel Clifford

1985

Final screen role in inspirational drama "Cry from the Mountain"

Videos

Movie Clip

Father Was A Bachelor (1950) - We Don't Have Shoes! Still not committed to the Chalotte kids (Gary Gray with Billy Gray, Warren and Wayne Farlow and Mary Jane Saunders) who have mostly adopted him, drifter-singer Johnny (William Holden) is assailed by do-gooder Prudence (second billed Colleen Gray, in her first scene) in Father Was A Bachelor, 1950.
Father Was A Bachelor (1950) - I Kinda Steer Clear Of Houses After an opening scene singing in blackface in a minstrel-medicine show, in which his colleague (Charles Winninger) wound up jailed, Johnny (William Holden) takes up fishing and meets the Chalotte kids (Mary Jane Saunders, Gary Gray and Billy Gray, Warren and Wayne Farlow) in Father Was A Bachelor, 1950.
Kiss Of Death (1947) - Open, Christmas Eve Chilling opening with narration by Coleen Gray (who'll appear as "Nettie"), introducing Nick Bianco (Victor Mature), from Henry Hathaway's Kiss Of Death, 1947, from a script by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer and story by Eleazer Lipsky.
Kiss Of Death (1947) - Tell Me About Maria Shot in the genuine visiting room at Sing Sing, ex-baby sitter Nettie (Coleen Gray) comes to visit Nick (Victor Mature) with news of his late wife and orphaned kids, in director Henry Hathaway's Kiss Of Death, 1947.
Kiss Of Death (1947) - Lyin' Old Hag! Horrible famous scene in which Tommy (Richard Widmark, in his first movie) executes Ma Rizzo (Mildred Dunnock, neither old nor a hag) for not giving up her son, Henry Hathaway directing, in Kiss Of Death, 1947.
Nightmare Alley (1947) - My Scotch Blood Is Working Carnival boss Hoatley (James Flavin) receiving an affronted town marshal (James Burke), his new M-C and all purpose performer Stan (Tyrone Power), with an assist from Molly (Coleen Gray), laying down the charm to keep the show from being shut down, in Nightmare Alley, 1947.
Nightmare Alley (1947) - The Lady's Silence Now a big hit in Chicago, using the fortune telling code trick they stole from their ex-friends at the carnival, Stan (Tyrone Power) and his wife-assistant Molly (Colleen Gray) at work, Helen Walker as unannounced psychologist Dr. Ritter in the audience, in Nightmare Alley, 1947.
Kansas City Confidential - You Are From Tijuana? Framed Joe (John Payne) arrives with new friend Helen (Coleen Gray, her first scene, whom we will learn is the daughter of the master criminal) at the resort where Kane (Neville Brand) and Romano (Lee Van Cleef) realize he's taken the identity of their fellow hood, Teresa (Dona Drake) greeting, in Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential, 1952.
Killing, The (1956) - None Of These Men Are Criminals Continuing narration (Art Gilmore from Jim Thompson’s script) we meet Johnny (Sterling Hayden), speaking in notably similar style, with girlfriend Fay (Coleen Gray), and more exposition as co-conspirator Unger (Jay C. Flippen) joins them, in Stanley Kubrick’s acclaimed The Killing, 1956.
Arrow In The Dust (1954) - The Command Is Falling To Pieces Laish (Sterling Hayden), a repentant cavalry deserter now assuming the identity of his slain officer-cousin, joins Lt. King (Keith Larsen) and Sgt. Lybarger (John Pickard), who are trying to protect an immigrant wagon train, Coleen Gray as Miss Burke in the purple dress, in Arrow In The Dust, 1954.

Trailer

Family

Arthur L Jensen
Father
Farmer.
Anna Jensen
Mother
Merle J C Jensen
Brother
IBM serviceman.
Jerrilou Hollis
Daughter
Born c. 1945.
Susan Amateau
Daughter
Born on June 10, 1946 in Los Angeles.
Bruce Robin Bidlack
Son
Born on June 1, 1954.

Companions

Rodney Amateau
Husband
Screenwriter. Married on August 10, 1945; divorced on February 11, 1949.
William Clymer Bidlack
Husband
Aviation executive. Married on July 14, 1953.

Bibliography

Notes

"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 loook 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