Emmy-winning Dallas star Barbara Bel Geddes, who played matriarch Miss Ellie Ewing on the seminal night-time soap, died Monday of lung cancer at her home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. She was 82.
“She was the rock of Dallas,” Larry Hagman, who played J.R. Ewing, tells the Associated Press. “She was just a really nice woman and a wonderful actress. She was kind of the glue that held the whole thing together.”
Though best remembered for her TV work, she was also Oscar nominated for her role as the narrator-daughter in 1948’s sentimental I Remember Mama and was Tennessee Williams’s original sizzler, Maggie the Cat, in Broadway’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Dallas came late in her career. She had retired to take care of her husband, Windsor Lewis, after he fell ill with cancer in 1966. He died in 1972. Financially depleted, Bel Geddes accepted a role from Dallas producers even though she considered TV a step down from Oscar- and Tony-caliber roles. Her Emmy came in 1980 – and she remains the only night-time soap winner to be honored in an acting category.
Bel Geddes left the show in 1983 – she was replaced by Donna Reed for six months – but returned to Dallas a season later. Though she had a major heart attack in March 1984, Bel Geddes remained with the series until 1990, a year before CBS canceled the show.
She also was a heavy smoker, according to reports. Hagman said he had encouraged Bel Geddes to give up the smoking habit, but it was doctors who got her to quit after her heart attack.
Of the lung cancer deaths of Peter Jennings and Bel Geddes, Hagman said: “I hope it’s a wake-up call to a lot of people.”
Bel Geddes is survived by a daughter, Betsy.