Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered Tony Award-winning actress Natasha Richardson died this week at the age of 45 after an accident at a Canadian ski resort. Another actress died this week — a woman whose career was also cut short.
NPR logo

Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102205773/102205754" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

Natasha Richardson, Betsy Blair Remembered

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/102205773/102205754" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

The neon lights on Broadway were dimmed at 8 Thursday night to honor the memory of Tony Award-winning actress Natasha Richardson. She died at the age of 45 after an accident at a Canadian ski resort.

The British-born actress left behind a substantial body of work, and it was reported in the obituaries that Richardson was planning to star with her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, in a Broadway revival of Steven Sondheim's "A Little Night Music."

Natasha Richardson was not quite born with a script in her hand, but had an impressive pedigree. The Redgraves have been in the theater for generations. Her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, is also well-known for her political outspokenness and activism. Although she has encountered strong protests, her career continues to flourish. I thought about Redgrave when I read about the death of an actress whose career was cut short because of her political beliefs.

The obituary appeared in the paper the same day as Redgrave's daughter's. Betsey Blair died in London at the age of 85. Chances are you may only remember her because she was nominated for an Oscar. She played Ernest Borgnine's girlfriend in the 1955 film "Marty." Blair almost didn't get the job.

She was born in New Jersey. She began as a dancer - first in a Times Square nightspot, where she met the choreographer Eugene Curran Kelly. She was 17. They married; they moved to Hollywood. He became Gene Kelly, and Hollywood was their oyster.

During their 16-year marriage - one she described as happy - Blair became involved in political causes. She worked on behalf of the NAACP and the Independent Progressive Party. At one point, she wanted to join the Communist Party but was not admitted. Her husband wasn't a member, and he was considered too famous. But she was put on Hollywood's blacklist. Her career dried up.

But through Gene Kelly's intervention, she was cast in "Marty." The next year, she left him and went to Europe. She divorced him in 1957, made a few movies in Europe, and married the Czech-born director Karel Reisz. Blair went on to become a speech therapist in London, and she had no regrets about anything.

Over the years, Blair was asked why she chose to end her storybook marriage to Gene Kelly, a man she described as the perfect husband, father, friend, protector, provider, hard worker; a man she said she loved and admired as a brilliant actor and dancer as well as a good, good man.

In one interview, she said it had nothing to do with sex. It was freedom.

(Soundbite of song, "Broadway Rhythm Ballet")

Mr. GENE KELLY (Actor): (Singing) Gotta dance, gotta dance, gotta dance…

HANSEN: Gene Kelly and music from "Singin' in the Rain."

You're listening to NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.