Beatrice Straight

Beatrice Whitney Straight (August 2, 1914 April 7, 2001) was an American theatre, film and television actress and a member of the prominent Whitney family. She was an Academy Award and Tony Award winner as well as an Emmy Award nominee.[1]

Beatrice Straight
Beatrice Whitney Straight

(1914-08-02)August 2, 1914
DiedApril 7, 2001(2001-04-07) (aged 86)
Years active1939–1991
Louis Dolivet
(m. 1942; div. 1949)

Peter Cookson
(m. 1949; his death 1990)
Parent(s)Willard Dickerman Straight
Dorothy Payne Whitney
RelativesWhitney W. Straight (brother)
Michael W. Straight (brother)

Straight made her Broadway debut in The Possessed (1939). Her other Broadway roles included Viola in Twelfth Night (1941), Catherine Sloper in The Heiress (1947) and Lady Macduff in Macbeth (1948). For her role as Elizabeth Proctor in the production of The Crucible (1953), she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play. For the satirical film Network (1976), she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was on screen for five minutes and two seconds, the shortest performance to win an Academy Award for acting. She also received an Emmy Award nomination for the miniseries The Dain Curse (1978). Straight also appeared as Mother Christophe in The Nun's Story (1959) and Dr. Martha Lesh in Poltergeist (1982).

Early life

Beatrice Whitney Straight was born in Old Westbury, New York, the daughter of Dorothy Payne Whitney of the Whitney family, and Willard Dickerman Straight, an investment banker, diplomat, and career U.S. Army officer.[1] Her maternal grandfather was political leader and financier William Collins Whitney. In 1918, when Straight was four years old, her father died in France of influenza during the great epidemic while serving with the United States Army during World War I. Following her mother's remarriage to British agronomist Leonard K. Elmhirst in 1925, the family moved to Devon, England. It was there that Straight was educated at Dartington Hall and began acting in amateur theater productions. In the 1930s, she attended the Cornish School in Seattle where many of her teachers at Dartington Hall were from and to which both she and her mother became major benefactors.[2]


Straight returned to the United States and made her Broadway debut in the play The Possessed (1939). Most of her theater work was in the classics, including Twelfth Night (1941), Macbeth (1948) and The Crucible (1953), for which she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play.

From its inception, Straight was a member of the Actors Studio, attending the class conducted three times weekly by founding member Robert Lewis; her classmates included Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Jerome Robbins, Sidney Lumet, and about 20 others.[3]

Straight was active in the early days of television, appearing in anthology series such as Armstrong Circle Theatre, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio One, Suspense, The United States Steel Hour, Playhouse 90 and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and dramatic series like Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, The Defenders, Route 66, Mission: Impossible and St. Elsewhere. Further television performances include the role of Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman series, and Marion Hillyard, the icy, controlling mother of Stephen Collins in The Promise.

Straight worked infrequently in film and is perhaps remembered best for her role as a devastated wife confronting husband William Holden's infidelity in Network (1976). She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.[4] Another widely seen film appearance was the role of the paranormal investigator Dr. Martha Lesh in the horror film Poltergeist (1982).

Personal life

On February 22, 1942, Straight married Louis Dolivet, Free French Leader, in Polk County, Iowa. At the time, Dolivet was a speaker at the National Farm Institute and Straight was in the middle of the midwest road show of Twelfth Night.[5] Her mother Dorothy Elmhirst and stepfather Leonard K. Elmhirst attended the wedding with her brother Michael Straight and his wife Belinda Crompton. Dolivet was in the French Air Force until June 1940 and was the co-editor of The Free World, a magazine published by the International Free World Association, of which he was secretary general. At the time of the wedding, her elder brother, Whitney Straight, had been missing since August 1941, when his plane was shot down on the French coast.[5]

Straight obtained a divorce from Dolivet in Reno, Nevada on May 24, 1949. Together they had one child:[6]

  • Willard Whitney Straight Dolivet (1945-1952)[7]

In 1948, while starring in the Broadway production of The Heiress,[8] an adaptation of Henry James's Washington Square, she met Peter Cookson. They married in 1949 and remained married until Cookson's death in 1990. Peter had two children from his previous marriage, Peter W. Cookson Jr. and Jane Coopland (née Cookson).[1] Together, Straight and Cookson had two children:[1]

  • Gary Cookson
  • Anthony "Tony" Cookson

In 1952, her 7-year-old son, Willard, from her first marriage, accidentally drowned in a pond on their farm in Armonk while playing in a small row boat tied to the dock. The boy was found by Cookson.[7] The boy's father, Dolivet, who was living in Paris at the time, was refused a visa and, therefore, unable to fly to the United States to attend the funeral because of his alleged pro-communist activities, which he denied.[9]

Straight reportedly suffered from Alzheimer's disease in her last years. In 2001, she died from pneumonia in Northridge, Los Angeles, at the age of 86.[1] Her interment was at William Henry Lee Memorial Cemetery in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.



Title[10] Year Role Notes
Phone Call from a Stranger 1952 Claire Fortness
Patterns 1956 Nancy Staples
The Silken Affair 1956 Theora
The Nun's Story 1959 Mother Christophe (Sanatorium)
The Young Lovers 1964 Mrs. Burns
The Garden Party 1973 Mrs. Sheridan
Network 1976 Louise Schumacher Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
The Promise 1979 Marion Hillyard
Bloodline 1979 Kate Erling
The Formula 1980 Kay Neeley
Endless Love 1981 Rose Axelrod
Poltergeist 1982 Dr. Lesh
Two of a Kind 1983 Ruth
Chiller 1985 Marion Creighton Television movie
Robert Kennedy & His Times 1985 Rose Kennedy Miniseries
Power 1986 Claire Hastings
Deceived 1991 Adrienne's Mother (final film role)


Title[11] Date of Production Role Notes
The Possessed Oct. 24, 1939 - Nov. 4, 1939 Lisa
Twelfth Night Dec. 2, 1941 - Dec. 13, 1941 Viola
Land of Fame Sep. 21, 1943 - Sep. 25, 1943 Angela
The Wanhope Building Feb. 9, 1947 - Feb. 16, 1947 Felina
The Heiress Sep. 29, 1947 - Sep. 18, 1948 Catherine Sloper Replacement
Eastward in Eden Nov. 18, 1947 - Nov. 29, 1947 Emily Dickinson
Macbeth Mar. 31, 1948 - Apr. 24, 1948 Lady Macduff
The Innocents Feb. 1, 1950 - Jun. 3, 1950 Miss Giddens
The Grand Tour Dec. 10, 1951 - Dec. 15, 1951 Nell Valentine
The Crucible Jan. 22, 1953 - Jul. 11, 1953 Elizabeth Proctor 1953 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play
Everything in the Garden Nov. 29, 1967 - Feb. 10, 1968 Mrs. Toothe


Title[10] Type Year Role Notes
Somerset Maugham TV Theatre Series 1951
Lights Out Series 1951 Charlotte
Love of Life Series 1951 Vinnie Phillips
Cosmopolitan Theatre Series 1951
Love Story Movie 1952 Elizabeth Barrett
The Web Series 1952
The Magnificent Failure Movie 1952 Louisa May Alcott
Armstrong Circle Theatre Series 1952
Kraft Theatre Series 1952-1953
Love Story Series 1954
Suspense Series 1952-1954 Mrs. de Spain / Claire Trent
Inner Sanctum Series 1954 Louise
Omnibus Series 1953-1954 Goneril
You Are There Series 1954-1955 Anne Boleyn
Danger Series 1955
Studio One in Hollywood Series 1951-1957 Pamela Baxter
The United States Steel Hour Series 1955-1958 Katherine Grant / Daisy Jackson
Playhouse 90 Series 1958 Grace
Play of the Week Series 1959 Mlle. de St. Euverte
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Series 1959-1960 Ida Blythe / Cynthia Fortnam Season 5, Episode 10 and Season 5, Episode 27
Diagnosis: Unknown Series 1960 Rhoda Clarence
Dr. Kildare Series 1961 Pamela Rainey
Naked City Series 1962 Ann Johns
The Doctors and the Nurses Series 1962 Ruth Martin
The Eleventh Hour Series 1963 Veronica Filmore
Ben Casey Series 1963 Edith Bauer
Route 66 Series 1961-1963 Elena De Amundo / Mother Teresa / Kitty Chamberlain
The Defenders Series 1965 Mrs. Campbell
Mission: Impossible Series 1966 Dr. Martha Richards Zubrovnik Season 1, Episode 11
Felony Squad Series 1967 Victoria Cahill
Matt Lincoln Series 1970
The Borrowers Movie 1973 Mrs. Crampfurl
Beacon Hill Series 1975 Mrs. Hacker
The Andros Targets Series 1977 Mrs. Benderson
The World of Darkness Movie 1977 Joanna Sanford
Wonder Woman Series 1977 Hippolyta
Killer on Board Movie 1977 Beatrice Richmond
The Dain Curse Mini-Series 1978 Alice Dain Leggett Emmy Award for Guest Actress in a Comedy (nomination)
King's Crossing Series 1982 Louisa Beauchamp
Faerie Tale Theatre Series 1984 Queen Veronica / Woman in Museum
Robert Kennedy and His Times Miniseries 1985 Rose Kennedy
Chiller Movie 1985 Marion Creighton
Under Siege Movie 1986 Margaret Sloan
Jack and Mike Series 1988 Mike's mother
St. Elsewhere Series 1988 Marjorie Andrews
Run Til You Fall Movie 1988 Margaret
People Like Us Movie 1990 Maisie Verdurin


  1. Mel Gussow (April 11, 2001). "Beatrice Straight, Versatile Star, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-21. Beatrice Straight, a graceful and versatile actress who won both an Oscar and a Tony Award, died on Saturday in North Ridge, Calif. She was 86 and lived in Beverly Hills, Calif., for most of the last 10 years. ...
  2. Cornish, Nellie C. Miss Aunt Nellie: the Autobiography of Nellie C. Cornish. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1964: pp 214-17.
  3. Robert Lewis (1996) [1984]. "Actors Studio, 1947". Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life. New York: Applause Books. p. 183. ISBN 1-55783-244-7. At the end of the summer, on Gadget's return from Hollywood, we settled the roster of actors for our two classes in what we called the Actors Studio - using the word 'studio' as we had when we named our workshop in the Group, the Group Theatre Studio... My group, meeting three times a week, consisted of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Mildred Dunnock, Jerome Robbins, Herbert Berghof, Tom Ewell, John Forsythe, Anne Jackson, Sidney Lumet, Kevin McCarthy, Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall, Patricia Neal, Beatrice Straight, David Wayne, and - well, I don't want to drop names, so I'll stop there. In all, there were about fifty.
  4. "Beatrice Straight performance length". Serving Cinema. Archived from the original on 2017-08-06. Retrieved 2016-10-09.
  5. Staff (February 22, 1942). "BEATRICE W. STRAIGHT IS WED IN DES MOINES Sister of Lost R.A.F. Flier the Bride of Louis Dolivet, Editor". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  6. Staff (May 25, 1949). "MRS. DOLIVET GETS DECREE As Beatrice Straight of the Stage, She Was Married in '42". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  7. Staff (September 8, 1952). "ACTRESS' SON, 7, DROWNS Willard Dolivet Found in Pool on Westchester Farm". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  8. Fluker, Kit. "Beatrice Straight papers 1922-1987 [bulk 1968-1986]". Archives of the New York Public Library. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  9. Staff (September 12, 1952). "$110,000 IN BOYS ESTATE Mother Files Papers in Case of Dolivet Child Who Drowned". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  10. "Beatrice Straight". Retrieved 3 February 2016.
  11. "Beatrice Straight". Retrieved 3 February 2016.
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