Cathy O'Donnell

Cathy O'Donnell (born Ann Steely, July 6, 1923 April 11, 1970) was an American actress, best remembered for her roles in films-noir and the award winning movies of film director William Wyler.

Cathy O'Donnell
O'Donnell in 1959
Ann Steely

(1923-07-06)July 6, 1923
DiedApril 11, 1970(1970-04-11) (aged 46)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale
Alma materOklahoma City University
Years active19451964
Robert Wyler
(m. 1948)

Early life

O'Donnell was born Ann Steely in Siluria in Shelby County in central Alabama. Her father was the owner of a local movie theater. At age 12 she left Alabama with her family and 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,[1] after watching the movie Wuthering Heights, and saved up money for a two-week trip to Hollywood, where she hoped to begin a movie career.[2]

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.[2] 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 made her film début in an uncredited role as an extra in Wonder Man (1945).

O'Donnell's first major film role was in 1946's highly acclaimed The Best Years of Our Lives,[3] 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 out to RKO for They Live by Night (1948), one of her most 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 ten noir films. It was directed by Nicholas Ray. 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 also 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. The film won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1959.

In the 1960s, she appeared in TV shows, appearing on shows such as Perry Mason, The Rebel and Man Without a Gun. Her last screen appearance was in 1964, in an episode of Bonanza.[1]

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 would also direct 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.[1] Her husband died nine months later. The couple had no children. She is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.[4]



Year Film Director Role Notes
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
1959 Ben-Hur William Wyler Tirzah


Year Show Episode Role Notes
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
1961 Sugarfoot Angel Angel
1964 Bonanza The Lila Conrad Story Sarah Knowles (final appearance)


  1. Story, David M. (June 2012). "Dream a Little Dream". 405 magazine. Archived from the original on 5 December 2018. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
  2. Hare, William (2004). L.A. Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels. McFarland. pp. 78–79. ISBN 9780786437405.
  3. Nott, Robert (December 21, 2007). "Steely magnolia". The Santa Fe New Mexican. New Mexico, Santa Fe. p. 50. Retrieved December 4, 2018 via
  4. Resting Places
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