Coleen Gray

Coleen Gray (born Doris Bernice Jensen; October 23, 1922 August 3, 2015) was an American actress. She was best known for her roles in the films Nightmare Alley (1947), Red River (1948), and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956).

Coleen Gray
Coleen Gray, 1952
Doris Bernice Jensen

(1922-10-23)October 23, 1922
DiedAugust 3, 2015(2015-08-03) (aged 92)
Resting placeCremated
Years active1944–1986
  • Rod Amateau
    (m. 1945; div. 1949)
  • William Bidlack
    (m. 1953; died 1978)
  • Fritz Zeiser
    (m. 1979; died 2012)

Early years

Gray was born in Staplehurst, Nebraska,[1] her family moved to Hutchinson, Minnesota when she was seven. She grew up on a farm. After graduating from Hutchinson high school in 1943 as Doris Jensen, she studied drama at Hamline University, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.[2] She travelled to California, and worked as a waitress in a restaurant in La Jolla. After several weeks there, she moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at the University of California. She also worked in the school's library and at a YWCA while a student.[3]


She had leading roles in the Los Angeles stage productions Letters to Lucerne and Brief Music, which won her a 20th Century Fox contract in 1944.[4]

Film appearances

When I attended the University, I daydreamed about being a movie star. I would do my dressing room in Early American and give lovely presents to my make-up man and hairdresser for making me look so lovely, and so on. When I got my contract at 20th I was in seventh heaven, but I found out that a movie career is mostly hard work laced with disappointments.[5]

Coleen Gray, The Boston Sunday Post November 9, 1947

After playing a bit part in State Fair (1945),[2] she became pregnant and briefly stopped working, only to return a year later as the love interest of the character played by John Wayne in Red River (1948), which was shot in 1946 but held for release until 1948. Gray appeared in two 1947 films noir: In Kiss of Death as Victor Mature's ex-con character's wife and Richard Widmark's character's target; and in Nightmare Alley as Tyrone Power's character's carnival performer wife, "Electra."[4] In 1950, Gray used her musical abilities as she sang her part (rather than having her voice dubbed) opposite Bing Crosby in Riding High, directed by Frank Capra.[2] Riding High was not a success and Fox ended her contract in 1950.

Gray worked steadily in the 1950s, but mostly in smaller movies. She played a crooked nurse in The Sleeping City (1950) and appeared in Kansas City Confidential (1952) and in the Stanley Kubrick film noir The Killing (1956), in which she played a lonely woman desperate for love. In the 1953 Western The Vanquished, she played a woman who attacks Jan Sterling's character with a pair of scissors in a crazed attempt to exonerate the man she loves (John Payne). Other films included Father Is a Bachelor (1950), The Leech Woman (1960), The Phantom Planet (1961), and P.J. (1968).[6]

Gray appeared in The Late Liz (1971), and acted in the films Forgotten Lady (1977), and Mother (1978) with Patsy Ruth Miller. Mother had a premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Both Mother and Forgotten Lady were written for Gray by Brian Pinette, who also served as director and producer. She appeared in the religious film Cry From the Mountain (1986, in the USA), directed by James F. Collier.[7][8]


From the 1950s, Gray guest-starred in episodes of television series such as Four Star Playhouse, Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, Mr. Ed, Rawhide in 1962 in the episode "The Devil and the Deep Blue" as Helen Wade, 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Deputy, Have Gun Will Travel, The Dakotas, Family Affair, Ironside, Lawman, The Name of the Game and Branded. On May 23, 1962, she was cast as Miss Wycliffe in the series finale, "A Job for Summer", of the CBS comedy/drama series, Window on Main Street, starring Robert Young as a widowed author in his hometown. She made four guest appearances on Perry Mason, including the title role of defendant Lorraine Kendall in the 1960 episode, "The Case of the Wandering Widow."

Gray was a regular on the daytime dramas Bright Promise and Days of Our Lives.[2]

Personal life

Gray married Rod Amateau, a screenwriter, on August 10, 1945; they divorced on February 11, 1949, and had one daughter, Susan (born 1946).[9] Gray's second husband was William Clymer Bidlack, an aviation executive. They were married from July 14, 1953,[10] until his death in 1978. The union produced a son, Bruce Robin Bidlack (born 1954).[11]

During the filming of Kansas City Confidential (1952) she had a romance with recently divorced screen hunk co-star John Payne that continued well past filming.

In 1979, Gray married widowed biblical scholar Joseph Fritz Zeiser;[12] they remained together until his death in March 2012. They worked together in Presbyterian causes and the non-profit organization, Prison Fellowship, founded in 1976 by Chuck Colson, a convicted felon in the Watergate scandal. Prison Fellowship assists the church in ministering to prisoners and their families and victims. Gray was a staunch conservative Republican. [13]

In 1964, along with actors Victor Jory and Susan Seaforth, Gray testified before the United States Congress as part of "Project Prayer," arguing in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing school prayer.[11][14]

Gray died in her Bel Air, Los Angeles home on August 3, 2015, of natural causes. She was 92 years old.[15][16]

She was cremated at Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery and her ashes given to her stepson, Rick Zeiser.[13] Her memorial service was held at the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church where she, and her third husband, Joseph Fritz Ziesier, were active members.[17][18][11][14]

Public service

Gray was a member of the board of directors at her alma mater, Hamline University.[2] Gray was also active within the following organizations: WAIF, the child adoption organization as President, The March of Dimes, American Cancer Society, American Red Cross, American Mental Health Association, Los Angeles Epilepsy Society, Junior Blind, The Bel-Air Republican Women's Group, and the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America.[18]

Complete filmography

Radio appearances

1952Theatre Guild on the AirThe Meanest Man in the World[19]
1953Lux Radio TheatreAppointment with Danger[20]


  1. Magers, Boyd (2004). Western Women: Interviews with 50 Leading Ladies. McFarland & Company. pp. 94–96. ISBN 978-0786406722.
  2. "Actress Coleen Gray Is A Natural For Dean Of Women Role". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. March 1, 1970. p. 90. Retrieved June 20, 2015 via
  3. Keating, Micheline (December 3, 1960). "A Mind of Her Own". Tucson Daily Citizen. p. 18. Retrieved June 20, 2015 via
  4. Magers, p. 94.
  5. "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  6. "Her Life Reads Like a Soap Opera". Bucks County Courier. July 23, 1966. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
  7. "Cry from the Mountain". 1 March 1986. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  8. "Detail view of Movies Page". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  9. "Coleen Gray - The Private Life and Times of Coleen Gray. Coleen Gray Pictures". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  10. "Actress Coleen Gray Weds In California". The Corpus Christi Caller-Times. July 15, 1953. p. 21. Retrieved June 20, 2015 via
  11. Khatchatourian, Maane (4 August 2015). "Coleen Gray, Star of 'The Killing' and 'Kiss of Death', Dies at 92". Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  12. "Overview for Coleen Gray". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  13. Wilson, Scott (22 August 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. (2 volume set)". McFarland. Retrieved 18 December 2017 via Google Books.
  14. "Coleen Gray: Star of Forties and Fifties film noir". 8 August 2015. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  15. Barnes, Mike (August 3, 2015). "Coleen Gray, Star of 'Kiss of Death' and 'Nightmare Alley', Dies at 92". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  16. Soares, Andre (August 3, 2015). "Coleen Gray Dead at 92: Leading lady in early Stanley Kubrick film noir classic". Alt Film Guide. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  17. "Coleen Gray, star of 'The Killing' and 'Kiss of Death,' dies at 92". Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  18. M, Lana. "Coleen Zeiser (1922 - 2015)". Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  19. Kirby, Walter (February 17, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 1, 2015 via
  20. Kirby, Walter (January 18, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 40. Retrieved June 20, 2015 via
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