Coleen Gray

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Coleen Gray
Coleen Gray in Kansas City Confidential.jpg
Coleen Gray, 1952
Born Doris Bernice Jensen
(1922-10-23)October 23, 1922
Staplehurst, Nebraska, U.S.
Died August 3, 2015(2015-08-03) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Westwood Memorial Park
Occupation Actress
Years active 1944–1986
  • Rod Amateau (m. 1945–49) (divorced) (1 child)
  • William Bidlack (m. 1953–78) (his death) (1 child)
  • Fritz Zeiser (m. 1979–2012) (his death)
Children Bruce Robin Bidlack (b. 1954)
Susan Amateau (b. 1946)[1]

Coleen Gray (born Doris Bernice Jensen; October 23, 1922 – August 3, 2015) was an American actress. She was best known for her roles in the films Nightmare Alley (1947), Red River (1948), and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956).

Early years[edit]

She was born Doris Bernice Jensen on October 23, 1922 in Staplehurst, Nebraska,[2] the daughter of a farmer. After graduating from high school, she studied drama at Hamline University, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.[3] She travelled to California, and worked as a waitress in a restaurant in La Jolla. After several weeks there, she moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at the University of California. She also worked in the school's library and at a YWCA while a student.[4]


She had leading roles in the Los Angeles stage productions Letters to Lucerne and Brief Music, which won her a 20th Century Fox contract in 1944.[5]

Film appearances[edit]

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 look 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.[6]
Coleen Gray, The Boston Sunday Post November 9, 1947

After playing a bit part in State Fair (1945),[3] she became pregnant and briefly stopped working, only to return a year later as the love interest of the character played by John Wayne in Red River (1948), which was shot in 1946 but held for release until 1948. Gray appeared in two 1947 films noir: In Kiss of Death as ex-con Victor Mature's wife and as Richard Widmark's target; and in Nightmare Alley as Tyrone Power's carnival performer wife, "Electra."[5] In 1950, Gray used her musical abilities as she sang her part (rather than having her voice dubbed) opposite Bing Crosby in Riding High, directed by Frank Capra.[3] Riding High was not a success and Fox ended her contract in 1950.

Gray worked steadily in the 1950s, but mostly in smaller movies. She played a crooked nurse in The Sleeping City (1950) and appeared in Kansas City Confidential (1952) and in the Stanley Kubrick film noir The Killing (1956), in which she played a lonely woman desperate for love. In the 1953 Western The Vanquished, she played a woman who attacks Jan Sterling with a pair of scissors in a crazed attempt to exonerate the man she loves (John Payne). Other films included Father Is a Bachelor (1950), The Leech Woman (1960), The Phantom Planet (1961), and P.J. (1968).[7]

Gray appeared in The Late Liz (1971), and acted in the films Forgotten Lady (1977), and Mother (1978) with Patsy Ruth Miller. Mother had a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Both Mother and Forgotten Lady were written for Gray by Brian Pinette, who also served as director and producer. She appeared in the religious film Cry From the Mountain (1986, in the USA), directed by James F. Collier.[8][9]


From the 1950s, Gray guest-starred in episodes of television series such as Four Star Playhouse, Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, Mr. Ed, Rawhide in 1962 in the episode "The Devil and the Deep Blue" as Helen Wade, 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Deputy, Have Gun Will Travel, The Dakotas, Family Affair, Ironside,The Name of the Game and Branded. On May 23, 1962, she was cast as Miss Wycliffe in the series finale, "A Job for Summer", of the CBS comedy/drama series, Window on Main Street, starring Robert Young as a widowed author in his hometown. She made four guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the title role of defendant Lorraine Kendall in the 1960 episode, "The Case of the Wandering Widow."

Gray was a regular on the daytime dramas Bright Promise and Days of Our Lives.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Gray married Rod Amateau, a screenwriter, on August 10, 1945; they divorced on February 11, 1949, and had one daughter, Susan (born 1946). Gray's second husband was William Clymer Bidlack, an aviation executive. They were married from July 14, 1953,[10] until his death in 1978. The union produced a son, Bruce Robin Bidlack (born 1954).[11]

In 1979, Gray married widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser;[12] they remained together until his death in March 2012. They were active with the non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson, a convicted felon in the Watergate scandal. Prison Fellowship assists the church in ministering to prisoners and their families and victims. Gray was a staunch conservative Republican. In 1964, along with actors Victor Jory and Susan Seaforth, Gray testified before the United States Congress as part of "Project Prayer," arguing in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer.

Gray died in her Bel Air, Los Angeles home on August 3, 2015, of natural causes. She was 92.[13][14] She is buried at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA, beside her husband Fritz Zeiser, who predeceased her in March 2012.

Public service[edit]

Gray was a member of the board of directors at her alma mater, Hamline University.[3]

Partial filmography[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The Meanest Man in the World[15]
1953 Lux Radio Theatre Appointment with Danger[16]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Magers, Boyd (2004). Western Women: Interviews with 50 Leading Ladies. McFarland & Company. pp. 94–96. ISBN 978-0786406722. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Actress Coleen Gray Is A Natural For Dean Of Women Role". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. March 1, 1970. p. 90. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  4. ^ Keating, Micheline (December 3, 1960). "A Mind of Her Own". Tucson Daily Citizen. p. 18. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  5. ^ a b Magers, p. 94.
  6. ^ "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  7. ^ "Her Life Reads Like a Soap Opera". Bucks County Courier. July 23, 1966. Retrieved April 10, 2014. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Actress Coleen Gray Weds In California". The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 15, 1953. p. 21. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  11. ^
  12. ^ TCM biographies
  13. ^ Barnes, Mike (August 3, 2015). "Coleen Gray, Star of 'Kiss of Death' and 'Nightmare Alley,' Dies at 92". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  14. ^ Soares, Andre (August 3, 2015). "Coleen Gray Dead at 92: Leading lady in early Stanley Kubrick film noir classic". Alt Film Guide. Retrieved August 4, 2015. 
  15. ^ Kirby, Walter (February 17, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 1, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read
  16. ^ Kirby, Walter (January 18, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via  open access publication – free to read

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