Betsy Blair

Betsy Blair

Elizabeth Boger (Betsy Blair), the daughter of an insurance broker, was born in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, on 11th December 1923. After leaving high school she became a model and dancer in New York City.

Betsy Blair married Gene Kelly in 1941. Soon afterwards she won the lead part in The Beautiful People, a play written by William Saroyan. During the Second World War she concentrated on theatre work and bringing up her daughter.

Blair appeared in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947). This was followed by A Double Life (1947), Another Part of the Forest (1948) and The Snake Pit (1948). She was also active in the Screen Actors Guild and was a strong advocate of setting up an anti-discrimination committee.

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions.

Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

Roy Brewer, a close friend of Ronald Reagan was appointed to the Motion Picture Industry Council. Brewer commissioned a booklet entitled Red Channels. Published on 22nd June, 1950, and written by Theodore Kirkpatrick, a former FBI agent and Vincent Harnett, a right-wing television producer, it listed the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organisations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted.

Betsy Blair, because of her support for the anti-discrimination committee and other progressive measures, was one of those named in Red Channels. A free copy was sent to those involved in employing people in the entertainment industry. All those people named in the pamphlet were blacklisted until they appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and convinced its members they had completely renounced their radical past. Blair refused to do this and she was therefore unable to obtain employment in Hollywood.

With the active support of the screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky, Blair broke the blacklist by appearing in the film Marty (1955). The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Blair was nominated as best supporting actress. She also won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite this success Blair received no more job offers in Hollywood and she decided to move to Europe.

Blair appeared in Rencontre à Paris (1956), Calle Mayor (1956), Il Grido (1957), Lies My Father Told Me (1960), I Delfini (1960), Senilità (1962) and All Night Long (1962). In 1963 she met and married the film director, Karl Reisz. Now based in London she concentrated on theatre work. Blair also appeared in several television plays.

In 1988, Costa-Gavras, the left-wing film director, persuaded her to return to Hollywood to appear in Betrayed. Her autobiography, The Memory of All That: Love and Politics in New York, Hollywood and Paris, was published in 2003.

Betsy Blair died on 13th March 2009.