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Blair, Betsy 1923-

BLAIR, Betsy 1923-

PERSONAL:

Born December 11, 1923, in Cliffside, NJ; daughter of William Kidd and Frederica (Ammon) Boger; married Gene Kelly (a dancer and movie star), September 20, 1941 (divorced, 1957); married Karel Reisz (a director), September 5, 1963 (died, November 27, 2002); children: (first marriage) Kerry Kelly Novick. Education: London University, B.A., 1979.

ADDRESSES:

Agent—c/o Author Mail, Knopf Publishing, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER:

Actress and dancer. Appeared in numerous New York City theater productions, including The Beautiful People, 1941, The Glass Menagerie, 1944, and Richard III, 1956. London stage productions include The Trial of Mary Dugan, 1959, Spoon River Anthology, 1963, and Danger Memory!, 1989.

Actor in films, including The Guilt of Janet Ames, Columbia Pictures, 1947; A Double Life, Universal Pictures, 1947; The Snake Pit, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1948; Kind Lady, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1951; and Marty, United Artists, 1955. Italian film credits include Il Grido, Robert Alexander Productions, 1957; and Senilita, Aera Films, 1962.

Television work includes appearances in "The Charmed Circle," Philco Television Playhouse, National Broadcasting Company, 1950; "The Married Look," Ford Theater Hour, CBS Television, 1950; "Vengeance Is Mine, Inc.," Tales of the Unexpected, Anglia Television (UK), 1979; and "No Promises," thirtysomething, American Broadcasting Company, Inc. (ABC), 1987.

MEMBER:

Actors Equity (American and British), Screen Actors Guild, American Film Academy.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress, British Film Award for best foreign actress, and Palme d'Or, Cannes Film Festival, all 1955, all for Marty.

WRITINGS:

The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS:

As a "hoofer" at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe in New York City, sixteen-year-old Betsy Blair attracted the eye of the show's choreographer, a rapidly rising dancer by the name of Gene Kelly. Soon, Kelly became Blair's mentor and then her husband, taking her to Hollywood when he became an MGM contract player in 1940. While taking on the role of Beverly Hills hostess, Blair also began to study acting, with Kelly's encouragement. Soon she was landing roles in major movies, most famously as the plain-Jane blind date of Ernest Borgnine in Marty, a role that earned her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. With the birth of her daughter, Kerry, Blair seemed to have achieved the American dream of wealth and fame and a happy home, but her political interests were already working at cross-purposes with that dream.

Surrounded by wealthy friends and conspicuous consumption, Blair began to worry whether it was all a bit unfair. After all, there were plenty of people not doing as well, and she began to take a serious interest in Marxism and to join leftist groups like the Actor's Lab and the Independent Progressive Party, as well as hosting parties for organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. All of this soon attracted the attention of the FBI and eventually led to her inclusion on the Hollywood blacklist. Only Kelly's forceful intervention, and a threat to stop work on his own movies, allowed Blair to get the role in Marty.

In her late seventies, Blair published The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris, a "self-examination whose title, with its whiff of clumsiness and banality, belies her elegantly consistent voice," noted James Toback in reviewing the book for the New York Times. There is a great deal to tell, and Blair does not spare her own flaws or selfish impulses, sometimes retelling them in almost clinical fashion. Indeed, as Los Angeles Times reviewer Richard Schickel noted, "It is not an uninteresting life. But her account of it … is uninteresting, largely because of her blithe detachment." In contrast, a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book "tart and emotional, with the right degree of circumspection for the parties concerned—or at least those who deserve it." Noting the contradictions within her life and book, New York Times movie critic Janet Maslin concluded, "In the end The Memory of All That is itself most memorable for illustrating the author's ongoing struggle between ambition and self-sacrifice. 'This is not the lament of an unfulfilled woman,' [Blair] writes. But neither is it entirely reconciled to the course of her career or to its disappointments."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 2003, review of The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood, and Paris, p. 1627.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2003, review of The Memory of All That, p. 516.

Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2003, Richard Schickel, review of The Memory of All That, p. R2.

New Yorker, June 9, 2003, Lillian Ross, review of The Memory of All That, p. 42.

New York Times, May 5, 2003, Janet Maslin, review of The Memory of All That, p. E7.

New York Times Book Review, June 1, 2003, James Toback, "An American in Paris (and Elsewhere)," pp. 28-29.

ONLINE

ClariNet Web site,http://www.clarinet.com/ (July 8, 2003), "'All That' and Happy Love."*

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