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 (age 92)
Staplehurst, Nebraska, USA
Occupation Actress
Years active 1944–1986
  • Rodney Amateau (m. 1945–49)
  • William Bidlack (m. 1953–78)
  • Fritz Zeiser (m. 1979–2012)
Children 2

Coleen Gray (born October 23, 1922) is an American actress. She is best known for her roles in the films Nightmare Alley (1947), Red River (1948), and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956).

Early years[edit]

Gray was born Doris Jensen on October 23, 1922 in Staplehurst, Nebraska.[1] She was the daughter of a farmer. After graduating from high school, she studied dramatics at Hamline University, from which she graduated cum laude and received a Bachelor of Arts.[2] She then decided to travel to California. When she reached La Jolla she obtained employment as a waitress in a restaurant. After several weeks there, she moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in the University of California. She also worked in the school's library and at a YWCA while a student at UC.[3]


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.[4]


After initially playing a bit part in State Fair (1945),[2] 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, by which time she had already graduated to leading roles in films noir such as Kiss of Death (1947) opposite Victor Mature and Nightmare Alley (1947) opposite Tyrone Power.[4]

In 1950, Gray used her musical abilities as she sang her part (rather than having her voice dubbed) opposite Bing Crosby in Riding High.[2]

Film appearances[edit]

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." In 1948, she appeared as John Wayne's love interest in the opening sequences of Red River; but, overshadowed by the men in Howard Hawks's western, her career suffered and Fox ended her contract in 1950. Gray worked steadily in the 1950s. 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. Other films included Father Is a Bachelor (1950), the cult horror film The Leech Woman (1960), The Phantom Planet (1961), and P.J. (1968).[5]

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), produced by Billy Graham.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


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.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Gray married Rodney 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,[6] until his death in 1978. The union produced a son, Bruce Robin Bidlack (born 1954).[citation needed]

In 1979, Gray married widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser;[7] 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 is a staunch conservative Republican.[citation needed]

Public service[edit]

Gray was a member of the board of directors at her alma mater, Hamline University.[2]


  • "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." — Coleen Gray, quoted in The Boston Sunday Post November 9, 1947[8]

Partial filmography[edit]

Radio appearances[edit]

Year Program Episode/source
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The Meanest Man in the World[9]
1953 Lux Radio Theatre Appointment with Danger[10]


  1. ^ Magers, Boyd (2004). Western Women: Interviews with 50 Leading Ladies. McFarland & Company. pp. 94–96. ISBN 978-0786406722. 
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ a b Magers, p. 94.
  5. ^ "Her Life Reads Like a Soap Opera". Bucks County Courier. July 23, 1966. Retrieved April 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ "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
  7. ^ TCM biographies
  8. ^ "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ 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

External links[edit]