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Coleen Gray

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Coleen Gray
Doris Jensen

(1922-10-23)October 23, 1922
DiedAugust 3, 2015(2015-08-03) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1944–1986
Political partyRepublican
(m. 1945; div. 1949)
William Bidlack
(m. 1953; died 1978)
Joseph Fritz Zeiser
(m. 1979; died 2012)

Coleen Gray (born Doris Jensen;[1] 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]

Born to Danish parents[2] in Staplehurst, Nebraska,[3] Gray grew up on a farm. After graduating from Hutchinson High School as Doris Jensen, she studied art, literature, and music at Hamline University, and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.[1] 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 UCLA. 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),[1] 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 Victor Mature's ex-con character's wife and Richard Widmark's character's target; and in Nightmare Alley as Tyrone Power's character's carnival performer wife, "Electra."[5] In 1947, Gray used her musical abilities as she sang her part live while filming (rather than having her voice dubbed) opposite Bing Crosby in Riding High, directed by Frank Capra.[1] 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 plays the loyal girlfriend of criminal Sterling Hayden. In the 1953 Western The Vanquished, she played a woman who attacks Jan Sterling's character 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, Tales of Wells Fargo in 1960 in the episode "The Journey" as Sandra Morton, 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, Lawman, The Name of the Game, Branded, and Tales from the Darkside. 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.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Gray married Rod Amateau, a screenwriter, on August 10, 1945; they divorced on February 11, 1949, and had one daughter, Susan.[10] Gray's second husband was William Clymer Bidlack, an aviation executive. They were married from July 14, 1953,[11] until his death in 1978. The union produced a son, Bruce Robin Bidlack.[12]

In 1979, Gray married widowed Biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser;[13] they remained together until his death in March 2012. They worked together in Presbyterian causes and the non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson.[14]

Gray was a Republican[15] and supported Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.[16] That same year, along with actors Victor Jory and Susan Seaforth, she testified before the United States Congress as part of "Project Prayer", arguing in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer.[12][17]

Gray, at age 92, died of natural causes in her Bel Air home in Los Angeles on August 3, 2015.[18][19]

She was cremated at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery and her ashes given to her stepson, Rick Zeiser.[15] Her memorial service was held at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church where she, and her third husband, Joseph Fritz Zeiser, had been active members.[20][21][12][17]

Public service[edit]

Gray was a member of the board of directors at her alma mater, Hamline University.[1] She was also active within the following organizations: WAIF, the child adoption organization as president, The March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, American Mental Health Association, Los Angeles Epilepsy Society, Junior Blind, The Bel-Air Republican Women's Group, and the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.[21]

Complete filmography[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The Meanest Man in the World[22]
1953 Lux Radio Theatre Appointment with Danger[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Actress Coleen Gray Is A Natural For Dean Of Women Role". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. March 1, 1970. p. 90. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  2. ^ Coleen Gray obituary The Guardian, August 5, 2015. Retrieved May 24, 2022.
  3. ^ Magers, Boyd (2004). Western Women: Interviews with 50 Leading Ladies. McFarland & Company. pp. 94–96. ISBN 978-0786406722.
  4. ^ Keating, Micheline (December 3, 1960). "A Mind of Her Own". Tucson Daily Citizen. p. 18. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  5. ^ a b Magers, p. 94.
  6. ^ "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved November 27, 2014.
  7. ^ "Her Life Reads Like a Soap Opera". Bucks County Courier. July 23, 1966. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  8. ^ "Cry from the Mountain". IMDb.com. March 1, 1986. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  9. ^ "Detail view of Movies Page". Afi.com. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  10. ^ "Coleen Gray - The Private Life and Times of Coleen Gray. Coleen Gray Pictures". Glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  11. ^ "Actress Coleen Gray Weds In California". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 15, 1953. p. 21. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  12. ^ a b c Khatchatourian, Maane (August 4, 2015). "Coleen Gray, Star of 'The Killing' and 'Kiss of Death', Dies at 92". Variety.com. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  13. ^ "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  14. ^ "Leaving a Lasting Legacy". Prison Fellowship. August 12, 2015. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Wilson, Scott (August 22, 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. (2 volume set). McFarland. ISBN 9780786479924. Retrieved December 18, 2017 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (October 21, 2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
  17. ^ a b "Coleen Gray: Star of Forties and Fifties film noir". Independent.co.uk. August 8, 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Coleen Gray, star of 'The Killing' and 'Kiss of Death,' dies at 92". Bostonherald.com. Archived from the original on October 24, 2017. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  21. ^ a b M, Lana. "Coleen Zeiser (1922 - 2015)". Coleen-zeiser.memory-of.com. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  22. ^ Kirby, Walter (February 17, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 1, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  23. ^ Kirby, Walter (January 18, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 20, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon

External links[edit]