O'Donnell in 1959
July 6, 1923
Siluria, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||April 11, 1970 (aged 46)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale|
|Alma mater||Oklahoma City University|
O'Donnell was born Ann Steely in Siluria, Alabama. Her father, Grady Steely, was a school teacher who also owned a local movie theater. At age 7, her family moved to Greensboro, Alabama. At age 12 they moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she attended Harding Junior High School and Classen High School. She also worked in a U.S. Army induction center as a stenographer. She left that job to study acting at Oklahoma City University, after watching the film Wuthering Heights, and saved money for a two-week trip to Hollywood, where she hoped to begin a movie career. She told a Boston Globe reporter in 1946 that she first became interested in acting after seeing Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born at age 14, and that she played Juliet in a college production of Romeo and Juliet.
During her brief trip to Hollywood, she was spotted at a drugstore by a man who turned out to be the agent of Samuel Goldwyn. Although a screen test indicated a thick southern accent, Goldwyn was impressed with her appearance and put her under contract. He sent her for acting and diction lessons, and had her cast in local plays, including a Pasadena Playhouse dramatization of Little Women. She later changed her name to Cathy, which was the name of the female protagonist in Wuthering Heights. She then changed her last name to O'Donnell because it was recommended by Goldwyn's wife, who claimed that audiences loved actors and actresses with Irish last names.
O'Donnell's first major film role was in 1946's highly acclaimed The Best Years of Our Lives, playing Wilma Cameron, the high-school sweetheart of Navy veteran Homer Parrish. Homer was played by real-life World War II veteran and double amputee Harold Russell.
O'Donnell was loaned to RKO for They Live by Night (1948), one of her more memorable films. Farley Granger played her love interest. The film is widely considered a classic of the noir genre, and is on The Guardian's list of the top 10 noir films. The two actors were later re-teamed for Side Street (1950).
Later O'Donnell starred in The Miniver Story (also 1950), as Judy Miniver and had a supporting role in Detective Story (1951). She appeared as Barbara Waggoman, the love interest of James Stewart's character in the western The Man from Laramie (1955). Her final film role, and perhaps her most famous part, was in Ben-Hur (1959). She played the part of Tirzah, the sister to Judah Ben-Hur.
Personal life and death
Then 24-year-old O'Donnell married 47-year-old Robert Wyler, the elder brother of film director William Wyler, on April 11, 1948. She had met her husband two years earlier while being directed by his brother in The Best Years of Our Lives. He also directed her in Detective Story (co-written by Robert Wyler) and Ben-Hur. She died on her 22nd wedding anniversary, April 11, 1970, of a cancer-related cerebral hemorrhage following a long illness. Her husband died nine months later. The couple had no children. She is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
|1945||Wonder Man||H. Bruce Humberstone||Nightclub Extra||Uncredited|
|1946||The Best Years of Our Lives||William Wyler||Wilma Cameron|
|1947||Bury Me Dead||Bernard Vorhaus||Rusty|
|1948||The Amazing Mr. X||Bernard Vorhaus||Janet Burke|
|1948||They Live by Night||Nicholas Ray||Catherine "Keechie" Mobley|
|1950||Side Street||Anthony Mann||Ellen Norson|
|1950||The Miniver Story||H.C. Potter||Judy Miniver|
|1951||Never Trust a Gambler||Ralph Murphy||Virginia Merrill|
|1951||Detective Story||William Wyler||Susan Carmichael|
|1952||The Woman's Angle||Leslie Arliss||Nina Van Rhyne|
|1954||Eight O'Clock Walk||Lance Comfort||Jill Manning|
|1954||Loves of Three Queens||Edgar G. Ulmer||Enone||segment "The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships"|
|1955||Mad at the World||Harry Essex||Anne Bennett|
|1955||The Man from Laramie||Anthony Mann||Barbara Waggoman|
|1957||The Deerslayer||Kurt Neumann||Judith Hutter|
|1957||The Story of Mankind||Irwin Allen||Early Christian Woman|
|1958||My World Dies Screaming||Harold Daniels||Sheila Wayne Tierney||retitled Terror in the Haunted House|
|1951||Lights Out||To See Ourselves|
|1952||Orient Express||13th Spy||Francine Gilman|
|1954||The Philip Morris Playhouse||Up for Parole|
|1954||Center Stage||Chivalry at Howling Creek|
|1955||The Best of Broadway||The Best of Broadway||Amy Fisher|
|1955||Climax!||Flight 951||Mona Herbert|
|1956||Matinee Theater||Greybeards and Witches||Velna|
|1958||Zane Grey Theater||Sundown at Bitter Creek||Jennie Parsons|
|1958||The Californians||Skeleton in the Closet||Grace Adams|
|1959||Man Without a Gun||Accused|
|1960||The Detectives||The Trap||Laurie Dolan|
|1960||The Rebel||You Steal My Eyes||Prudence Gant|
|1960||Tate||Quiet After the Storm||Amy|
|1960||The Rebel||The Hope Chest||Felicity Bowman|
|1961||Perry Mason||The Case of the Fickle Fortune||Norma Brooks|
|1964||Bonanza||The Lila Conrad Story||Sarah Knowles||final appearance|
- Boultinghouse, Vivian (February 27, 1955). "Cathy From Alabama!". The Birmingham News. pp. E1. Retrieved April 13, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Story, David M. (June 2012). "Dream a Little Dream". 405 magazine. Archived from the original on December 5, 2018. Retrieved December 5, 2018.
- Hare, William (2004). L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels. McFarland. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780786437405.
- Adams, Marjory (December 17, 1946). "Cathy O'Donnell Believed, at 14, She'd Be a Movie Star, and She Is". The Boston Globe. p. 10. Retrieved April 13, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
- Nott, Robert (December 21, 2007). "Steely magnolia". The Santa Fe New Mexican. New Mexico, Santa Fe. p. 50. Retrieved December 4, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- Resting Places